Throughout the 20 months of the pandemic, Fort Smith has continued to undergo significant changes. Here is a list of 10 of them.
Fighter Jet Program
The Fort Smith airbase will soon be home to a long-term program, training pilots from other countries how to fly F-16 and F-35 fighter planes.
The program will bring approximately 825 people to the Ebbing Air National Guard Base, including more than 180 people from Singapore.
The Singapore unit and a dozen F-16 planes will begin to arrive by 2023, relocating from Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, where the base is maxing out on the number of aircraft it can hold. A dozen F-35 planes will arrive in 2026.
Hytrol Conveyor Company, Inc. opened a new location in Fort Smith inside the former Whirlpool distribution center.
The move brought 350 jobs to the area. This plant is the company's second location in Arkansas. The first is in Jonesboro.
Throughout the city, a multitude of businesses have announced expansions, bringing more jobs to the area.
Those businesses include Gerber, Mars Petcare, and Owens Corning. With their expansions, the companies brought approximately 175 new jobs to Fort Smith.
Interstate 49 Extension
The Arkansas Department of Transportation is constructing more of Interstate 49 from Highway 22 in Sebastian County to Interstate 40 in Crawford County.
The construction will be about 14 miles and will cost $787 million and will include a new bridge over the Arkansas River that may cost between $300 million and $400 million.
Once done, the interstate will connect Kansas City, Missouri, to southern Louisiana and will pass through the Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers metropolitan area, Fort Smith and Texarkana.
Construction should begin in the next year.
In May, a tornado tore through Van Buren, bringing winds as high as 74 mph to Fort Smith.
Several schools pivoted to virtual learning because of power outages, and hundreds of Fort Smith residents were without power after the storm.
Despite the storm, the power was back on and school was back in session a day or so after the twister.
The city of Fort Smith spent half a million dollars to upgrade Harley Wilson Park. The city completed the upgrades around April, and they included resurfacing and making a basketball court regulation size with new hoops; installing a multi-level playground, and adding electrical outlets for food trucks in the park at North Eighth and H streets.
The city of Fort Smtih allotted Panda Express a building permit Sept. 1. The restaurant will be at 8400 Rogers Ave., the site of the former Chambers Bank.
Building the fast-food restaurant should take between six to eight months. Construction will cost $1.3 million.
The Fort Smith Board of Directors decided to extend a 12-inch waterline along the Arkansas River to allow the development of an RV park.
The project will cost $1,941,825. It will extend the waterline along Riverfront Drive from "P" Street to Spradling Avenue and will connect it with existing lines. The board approved an additional $236,660 to enter an agreement with Hawkins-Weir Engineers, Inc., the firm that will provide construction services for the project.
The proposed RV park will have 104 paved RV parking spaces, 12 tent spaces, a swimming pool, two pavilions, restroom facilities, a dog park, boat ramp and dock and a playground.
Crisis Intervention and Mental Health Unit
The Fort Smith Police Department launched a mental health team in March 2020.
Police in the unit work cases involving drug overdoses and suicide threats and missing persons with mental health issues. They assist field personnel who are in contact with people in acute or emergency crises and work to reduce the number of incarcerations for people with mental illness through diversion to services.
The officers also respond to quality of life complaints in the downtown area, provide mental health resources to homeless people, work with local homeless agencies to identify people in need of additional mental health resources and find resolutions to nuisance complaints concerning people suffering from mental illness.
The Arkansas Colleges of Health Education purchased the Golden Living corporate offices, in September 2020, to use as a biological research lab and wellness center.
The Golden Living corporate offices building at 1000 Fianna Way, formerly known as Beverly Healthcare’s offices, was named the Arkansas Colleges of Health Education Research Institute Health & Wellness Center.
Alex Gladden is a University of Arkansas graduate. She previously reported for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and The Jonesboro Sun before joining the Times Record. She can be contacted at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on Fort Smith Times Record: What's New in Town?