FORT SMITH -- New micro-office and micro-retail opportunities downtown aim to support small businesses.
Tom Hanna, portfolio manager for the Fort Smith-based KMW Properties, said the Mill for businesses and the Exchange for retail are expected to be finished within three weeks. The space adjoins the Bakery District at 70 S. Seventh St.
"Space can be expensive, and to find good space to run a business, to call your home office or to call your home retail location, it can be difficult to do in the River Valley," Hanna said. "And so we are trying to offer space at affordable cost to small businesses that are trying to get up off the ground."
Hanna said the project will also help draw people to the businesses already housed in the Bakery District, as well as the downtown area by extension.
Bill Sabo, regional director for the Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith, said the Mill will be the first co-working space in the River Valley as far as he knows. He said several spaces like it exist in Northwest Arkansas.
The Mill will provide a point of entry for local early entrepreneurs, a place where they can congregate, network with each other and get access to resources, he said. He believes it will also give the Small Business and Technology Development Center an opportunity to help these entrepreneurs with programming and teaching. The center serves Crawford, Scott and Sebastian counties.
The retail element of the Exchange appeals to Sabo as well.
"To be able to have that kind of ecosystem, where upstairs you have entrepreneurs starting maybe service business or tech businesses, and then downstairs they're able to have retail space, it's really a pretty dynamic idea," he said.
Sabo said creating an ecosystem for entrepreneurs is key to a city's development, and the Mill and Exchange project is a large piece of that for Fort Smith.
The Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center's regional office is housed in the university's Center for Economic Development, which itself is located at the Bakery District.
KMW Properties owns the Bakery District, a community space promoting local businesses, according to Hanna. He said the Mill and Exchange is the company's fourth phase of development, which operated as the Shipley Baking Co. from 1921 through 1996, according to the district's website.
Hanna said the Mill will be on the second floor of the building. It will have about 6,000 square feet of office space with 63 desks that will be able to be rented out to both small and large businesses.
"Essentially, the concept is that we are building out office space that is fully furnished and this allows for smaller businesses to come in and rent smaller spaces," Hanna said.
"So if you're a start-up business, rather than having to go rent a full office, furnish it, get Wi-Fi, pay utilities, all these things, you can come into our space that is fully furnished, ready to go, pay a monthly fee and use the space as if it is your own office."
The Bakery District website states the following membership tiers are available to people who want to use the Mill space:
• Day pass: $20 per day, access to the space and on-site amenities from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
• Social membership: $100 per month, 24/7 access to the space and amenities.
• Dedicated desk: $250 per month, access to the space and amenities, as well as a personal desk with lockable storage.
• Private office: $500 per month, access to a private, furnished office.
Amenities in the Mill will include conference rooms, printers, mail service, patio space, a kitchen with commissary and free coffee, according to the website.
The Exchange will comprise about 15,000 square feet on the building's first floor and basement, according to Hanna. The basement will have space for two retail locations while the first floor will have an open air market.
Hanna said KMW Properties has secured bookings for the four private offices available at the Mill, with co-working space and dedicated desks remaining. A couple of tenants have signed letters of intent for the first floor of the Exchange while one tenant has been locked in for the basement. Hanna declined to disclose the names of any of these clients.
Current Bakery District tenants
Outside of the Mill and Exchange, the Bakery District is home to Fort Smith Coffee Co., Bookish, the Maple Room Pub, the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith’s Center for Economic Development and the District Galleries by UAFS. Food trucks and pop-up vendors can also be found there, among other amenities.
Source: Bakery District website