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Questions brew over new economic development in Fort Smith

Fort Smith is a step closer to bringing a major economic development to the city, but some are worried if an incentive used is even legal.

FORT SMITH, Ark. — Fort Smith is one step closer to bringing what is said to be a major economic development to the city. 

The company the city is looking to bring is still a bit of a mystery. It's being referred to as 'Project X' and some are questioning if the incentive to bring it to Fort Smith is legal.

"Fort Smith is ready, willing and able to push the envelope in order to attract businesses to our area, to our region and to show that Fort Smith is pro growth, pro jobs and pro amenities for our residents," said Carl Geffken, Fort Smith City Administrator. 

In order to bring 'Project X to Fort Smith, city directors had to move fast because they were given the deadline of March 30 to offer an incentive.

Over the next 10 years, Fort Smith and the Sebastian County assessor are looking to give nearly $7 million in incentives to the project. $2.5 million dollars of that would come from Fort Smith taxpayers.

"The General Fund will make those payments to the retail establishment," said Geffken.

The city attorney tells us he is worried about potential legal problems. According to the Arkansas constitution, cities cannot use taxpayer dollars to fund retail businesses.

"Even at a small risk, the name of this business alone and the name recognition - that will draw the economic development," said Fort Smith Board of Director Andre Good. 

"So the legislature has been contacted and a bill has been requested to be submitted for consideration in this legislative session," Geffken said.

Currently, Fort Smith is one of 12 potential locations competing for 'Project X'. If Fort Smith is selected, the business would move into the old Best Buy building off of I-540. That property is owned by Bennie Westphal, who is also working with lawmakers to change that rule in the constitution.

"If there is some way to make this work and get this 'Project X' here legally, and within our financial means, I think that we should do it. It's an investment, in my opinion, in the city of Fort Smith." said Good. 

"It's better to at least try and then be told no, than to sit on the sidelines and not try at all," Geffken said.

If Project X does end up coming to Fort Smith, it is projected to have $28 million dollars in revenue within it's first year. It would create 93 jobs at an average salary of $53,000.

There is not a timeline of when a decision will be made. However the company will lower its 12 potential locations to eight soon.

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