FORT SMITH – The town is currently undergoing a six-month study to assess the feasibility of a micro-freight center to improve the economy and quality of life for residents on the north side of town.
A micro-freight hub is a centralized pickup and drop-off location for goods that is closer to their point of delivery and serves a smaller area. It enables the final stage of delivery to include low-emission vehicles, cycling or walking and can be used by delivery companies, retailers and customers, according to a note from city administrator Carl Geffken to city board of directors.
The hubs also provide equitable access to goods and services and economic investment in the community, the note said.
Frontier Metropolitan Planning Organization, the regional transportation planning organization for the Fort Smith area, has been selected by the University of Washington in Seattle as a recipient of a grant for services valued at $ 50,000 to 70 $ 000 for the study through its urban freight lab. The city was chosen as the subject to determine whether micro-freight hubs could operate outside of major metropolitan areas, said Stacy Willinger, transportation planner for the Frontier Metropolitan Planning Organization.
The study is expected to be completed in December.
“We could see what this structure looks like and maybe we could marry it with social service agencies, with libraries, with a place that could serve as a distribution center,” said Reese Brewer, director of transportation for Frontier.
The north side of Fort Smith has higher than average racial segregation, according to statistics provided by Frontier.
Brewer and others in his group hope the study shows whether micro-freight hubs could increase equity in services and partner with minority-owned businesses, Geffken’s note said.
“The few people I’ve spoken to who have businesses on the north side are very excited about it,” said City Manager Andre Good, whose neighborhood encompasses much of the area north of the avenue. Rogers.
The study assesses businesses, demographics, and community needs to determine whether a micro-freight center would adequately meet those needs, according to its schedule. Local agencies and businesses will be interviewed about the project and the concept will be drafted from August to December.
Good’s first concern with the hub was contact during the pandemic, but he also said the hub could be sterilized.
The city memo says a micro-freight hub offers contactless pickup and drop-off points.
Good also asked how the hub will be maintained and if taxpayers’ money will be used, but acknowledged that the study is not yet complete.
“Both questions will be answered, I guess, as we go along,” he said.
Residents in the north of the city also had questions about the hub. Chris Chaney, who grew up in the north and until recently ran his barbershop in the Belle Grove neighborhood, wondered if this would allow small business owners to create more jobs.
“Once you drop something like that into the neighborhood that’s designed to create economic benefits in the neighborhood, is there some kind of financial or entrepreneurial education that would allow them to tap into that?” He asked.
Precious Rodgers, who lives just north of Rogers Avenue near Greenwood Avenue, operates Karpos Juicery from his mobile refrigerator. Rodgers believes a micro-freight hub would boost transit and freight for the local economy, not just for big companies like FedEx and Amazon.
But Rodgers also wondered how residents would get to the hub. She said the bike is not running on the north side and some roads are in poor condition.
“In terms of trying to get people to the hub, try to get there, that would be where you really should be targeting,” she said.
Chaney said the north side has plenty of infrastructure to support development if improved and maintained.
Chaney also said the north side of town is prime real estate for opportunities.
“Everyone goes south, everyone goes east, but once you oppose the state border, once you oppose Barling, once you oppose Greenwood and Bonanza and all these other places that want to be sovereign, you have to come back somewhere, ”he said.
Good believes the study will at least create opportunities to “help people do a little better for themselves.”