Parking meters remain in downtown Fort Smith except the area east of 11th Street.
The city of Fort Smith has removed parking meters in the area of Garrison Avenue that includes ProPak, SOL Studios, Johnston’s flower shop and Civil Axe Throwing. Officials made the decision to remove the meters after meeting with SOL Studios owner Grant Thomas.
Thomas took note of the meters after recording artists visiting his studio had to pay for parking. "Every business surrounding us, almost, has their own private parking lot, yet (we were) left to feed the meters," Thomas said.
Thomas said artists "weren’t extremely vocal about it," but he received "several complaints" about the meters.
During business hours Monday through Friday, the meters that line Garrison Avenue in downtown Fort Smith enforce parking fees and encourage parking turnover. According to past assessments, the city earned about $4,000 a month from downtown parking revenue.
After their meeting with Thomas and Chad Little, operator of Ethos Custom Brands in the studio’s downstairs space, the city assessed the need for meters in that part of downtown. City Administrator Carl Geffken said the city didn’t find a need to encourage turnover east of 11th Street.
"Since there are no parking issues on that section of Garrison, we had no problem with it," Geffken said.
Thomas said he was happy the meters were removed because of the impact refilling meters had on his clients, including the lingering possibility of receiving parking tickets. He said their creative processes during all-day recording sessions were often interrupted by this inconvenience.
"How does that look to artists who are coming in and doing business with us from around the region Dallas, Chicago, Fayetteville, just everywhere? They’re spending eight to 10 hours in the studio, sometimes even longer than that, and they’re having to continually go down and feed the meters or pay for parking tickets," Thomas said. "That’s just not a great amenity."
City Communication Manager Shari Cooper said the removal of the parking meters is something that will help SL continue to market itself —and by extension, Fort Smith to the outside world.
The paid parking debate
The debate over parking meters downtown is one that occasionally rises to the surface and sometimes prompts comparisons to other cities.
Some Arkansas cities, like Bentonville and Hot Springs, have free downtown parking capped at two hours. Fayetteville, like Fort Smith, has a meter system downtown.
Cooper said city officials are willing to meet with any downtown business or property owner to discuss the possibility of removing meters. They will then assess the situation, as they did on Garrison Avenue east of 11th Street.
Thomas said he believes the absence of parking meters would help the downtown area.
"We would see a big difference and change in people’s engagement in the downtown area people coming out and supporting live music, just coming out and shopping at restaurants and businesses," he said.