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  • Writer's pictureJonathan Schafer

UAFS' new Center for Economic Development nears completion

Updated: Jan 12, 2022

UAFS’ new Center for Economic Development is close to opening, the college announced on November 30th.

The center will be located within Fort Smith’s Bakery District, a pavilion for businesses and events just across from the Fort Smith Convention Center and the Sebastian County Courthouse.

The center will soon become home to the already established UAFS Center for Business and Professional Development, Family Enterprise Center, and Fort Smith’s Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center. All entities moving in are focused on educating students and the community on the inner workings of business.

The Chronicle was able to reach out to Chancellor Terisa Riley for more information on the center’s development process.

Dr. Riley spearheaded the project following her visit in the Fall of 2019.

“Fort Smith Coffee Company and Bookish had just moved in and the large event space was being developed,” Riley elaborated. “I was drawn to the environment, but what really sold me on the use of the space was proximity to the convention center, hotels, and local businesses.”

Shortly after her visit, Riley began getting the ball rolling by talking to leaders on campus, and determining the plausibility of leasing the space.

The Bakery District has seen a lot of renovation since it’s initial establishment in 1920. Shipley Baking Company, the original owners of the structure, owned it from 1920 to 1996, when it was sold to Flowers Foods who made bread there until 2006, when it closed, reopened briefly, then closed again in 2008.

As the rest of Fort Smith developed, the old bakery shack was left to rot, that is until 2018.

With downtown Fort Smith very quickly developing into the entertainment hub of today, a decision had to be made on the old Shipley building.

Bill Hanna, president of Hanna Oil and Gas Co purchased the abandoned building and the Hanna family decided to transform it into an event center.

The Bakery District has quickly become a beloved hotspot for the residents of Fort Smith. With UAFS’ involvement in the area, it’s sure to foster the community connection with the campus.

“It is critical for universities and communities to recognize, strengthen, and celebrate the symbiotic relationship that they have for economic development and quality of life,” Dr. Riley declared. “The University of Arkansas-Fort Smith educates many of the individuals who work within the community, and we help to shape and develop the quality and quantity of work as well as the types of community events, activities, and civic organizations that are sustained by our graduates and employees.”

The center was slated to open before November 1st, but is still undergoing renovation.


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