Fort Smith should consider the implications of purchasing the land and infrastructure we know as Central Mall and repurposing the land base to its literal roots — central park. I recently read of Central Mall losing one of three anchor tenants. Sears has leased that 100,000+ square feet space since the mall’s opening in 1971. The departure of the big-box retail tenant means 100,000 square feet of space will become available in the Fort Smith retail real estate market.

With the nationally recognized death of big-box retail centers, what will happen to that space? Will it be divided and programmed into several new spaces? If anything, Sears’ exit will further delay revitalization of the downtown area. What would happen to Fort Smith’s real estate market if the mall was nonexistent? Would that direct the retail market to return to downtown? How would it affect Fort Smith’s cultural and economic scenes? Could it ultimately bring residential investment downtown? Would it spur a reinvention of Garrison to its former glory?

Central Mall consists of over 800,000 square feet of rentable area sitting on 53-plus acres of what was once beautifully wooded, raw land. What are some plausible implications of the central park concept? Fort Smith’s water and sewage system is in a state of disrepair due to decades of negligence. The water load we now deliver to the system is greater than designers of our systems intended. A great contributor to this excessive water load on our sewage system is runoff from areas inundated with asphalt. What if there were 50 acres in the middle of Fort Smith’s concrete corridor that could absorb runoff? Fifty acres of asphalt retrofitted to green space would have massive implications: taxpayers could benefit, the ecosystem could thrive and downtown could revitalize.