Fort Smith at a Glance
Location: North Central Arkansas’ western border with Oklahoma
Access: Interstates 40, 540 and 49; Fort Smith Regional Airport
Hotel Rooms: 2,600-plus
Fort Smith Convention and Visitors Bureau
Fort Smith Convention Center
Built: 1966; expanded in 1981; new exhibit hall and new meeting rooms completed in 2001
Exhibit Space: 116,800 square feet
Other Meeting Spaces: Exhibit hall divisible into five spaces; eight meeting rooms expandable into 13; ArcBest Performing Arts Theatre and Lobby
DoubleTree by Hilton Fort Smith City Center
Guest Rooms: 255
Meeting Space: 17,000 square feet
Courtyard by Marriott
Guest Rooms: 138
Meeting Space: 2,565 square feet
Who’s Meeting in Fort Smith
Rotary Mid-Atlantic Presidents-Elect Training Seminar (MAPETS)
Battle at the Fort (volleyball)
Mid-America Aerospace and Defense Summit
In 2013, True West magazine named Fort Smith, Arkansas, its Top True Western town, and thanks to the city’s genuine cowboy atmosphere, it has repeated bestowing this honor every year since. Fort Smith was once the country’s jumping-off point into the West and pure lawlessness — with 66 saloons on Garrison Street, seven houses of ill repute and a jail known as Old Hell on the Border — until President Ulysses Grant commissioned Marshal Isaac Parker as the area’s first lawman.
These days, this thriving city is well-balanced, with noteworthy symphonies, spellbinding dance productions and cutting-edge, larger-than-life-sized art on enormous gray silos at the OK Feed Store. And Miss Laura’s Social Club, once designated the top whorehouse in the West, has become Fort Smith’s Visitor Center, the first of its kind to be on the National Register of Historic Places.
Successfully mixing a rich heritage with big-city amenities, Fort Smith can keep a group as busy as they want to be.
Thanks to the Unexpected Project, this unlikely town has become a world-class destination for urban and contemporary art. Begun in 2015, this ongoing downtown urbanization venture is a growing collection of outdoor art that includes more than 30 pieces by highly sought-after international artists who paint large murals on buildings and massive structures. A weeklong festival adds more art each year.
History waits around every corner in this border town. On a walking tour of the Fort Smith National Historic Site, visitors hear the heart-wrenching story of the Trail of Tears and Nations, retrace the footsteps of Deputy U.S. Marshal Bass Reeves and the nasty outlaws he brought to justice and learn about the notorious, misnamed “Hanging Judge” Parker. His remains are interred at 23.2-acre Fort Smith National Cemetery, worth a visit, as are the Army base and barber shop where Elvis Presley received “the haircut heard around the world” when he joined the U.S. military.
Decades of diverse architectural styles are preserved by Fort Smith’s lovely historic districts and grandiose churches. In the Belle Grove Historic District, the 1874 Clayton House, now a museum, is a luxurious mansion built by a local prosecutor during the elegant Victorian period, when the town was founded on the edge of Indian Territory.
Major Meeting Spaces
With 110,000 square feet of usable space for large conventions, meetings and special events, the Fort Smith Convention Center offers a 40,000-square-foot, customizable exhibit hall; eight meeting rooms that accommodate 30 to 100 people; and the 1,300-seat ArcBest Performing Arts Center, home to the renowned Fort Smith Symphony. The ArcBest is highly suited for live speakers, presentations, theater productions and concerts. The convention center’s architecturally striking North and South rotundas feature floor-to-ceiling panoramic windows that allow natural light into spaces for smaller group meetings and receptions.
Connected to the convention center, the DoubleTree by Hilton Fort Smith City Center features 17,000 square feet of meeting space that includes a 10,656 square-foot ballroom. A five-story waterfall cascades for patrons at its 1817 Grille and Tap Room Bar.
“If the convention center needs more space, we can easily utilize some or all of the DoubleTree’s space,” said Bob Reykers, director of sales for the center.
The Courtyard by Marriott Fort Smith Downtown sits adjacent to the convention center, adding another 2,565 square feet of meeting area, on-site dining and a bar, and a 24-hour business center.
All three properties are a half-mile from downtown shopping, restaurants, nightlife and historic attractions and a 10-minute drive from the University of Arkansas, Fort Smith.
“We’re an area that can meet the economic needs of the different groups coming to meet here,” said Amy Jones, head of convention and event sales for the Fort Smith Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Grants and a hardworking corps of volunteers make us very affordable.”
With 18,017 square feet of usable space across from the convention center, the Bakery District is a 1920s bakery facility with original brick-and-mortar walls that now houses a coffee lounge, a catering kitchen, a beer garden with a bocce court and four event spaces. The 5,900-square-foot outdoor patio can host 394 people. One meeting room with a living-plant wall holds 49 for small functions; another accommodates 550 standing for a reception.
Set on the banks of the Arkansas River, the 53,000-square-foot U.S. Marshals Museum is built in an impressive contemporary star design reflecting a lawman’s badge. Visitors take an interactive stroll through the history of these courageous tamers of the West from the 1789 beginning of the U.S. Marshals Service to the present. Though the museum’s doors are not yet open, attendees may tour its Hall of Honor free, and beginning next year, planners can book its 14,000 square feet of space that includes a river-view atrium.
“We’re hoping to have a soft opening late next year if we meet fundraising goals,” said Casey Faber, museum coordinator.
A restored Masonic Temple with 53,000 square feet of meeting space, Temple Live boasts a combo of Art Deco and Egyptian Revival architectural style, with three banquet halls. Its ornate interior hosts corporate functions and special events.
Home to the Arkansas-Oklahoma State Fair, the Old Fort Days Rodeo and numerous meetings, conventions and concerts, Kay Rodgers Park has 88,260 square feet of space for year-round use.
After the Meeting
“Fort Smith is a city surrounded by nature,” said Russ Jester, marketing and events services manager for the Fort Smith Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Outdoors lovers can paddle a kayak or canoe on the area’s lakes and the Arkansas River. Attendees will want to bring their families and treat the kids to a summertime day in Parrot-dise at Parrot Island Waterpark. There’s even an Aqua-Jog for adult exercise.
From Fort Smith, it’s an easy two-hour drive to Crater of Diamonds State Park, where visitors can search a 37-acre field, the eroded surface of part of a volcanic crater, for naturally occurring diamonds. Park rangers offer gem and mineral history and the how-to’s of questing. Since the park’s opening in 1972, guests have found more than 33,100 of these sparklers, including the 43.2-carat Uncle Sam, the largest diamond ever unearthed in the U.S.
The park features a 1,600-square-foot classroom in its interpretive center; an enclosed, climate-controlled pavilion; fishing; and miles of hiking and biking trails.
Successful “miners” can treat themselves and 49 friends or fellow attendees to a round of local craft beer in the Fort Smith Brewing Company’s Tasting Room. Munchies can include bar food such as pulled pork sandwiches or BYO food from any restaurant. With the city’s 200-plus clubs and restaurants representing cultures from around the globe, the choice is bound to satisfy every palate. Group favorites include fresh cut steaks at Doe’s Eat Place, real “Q” at Ralph’s Pink Flamingo BBQ and pure comfort food at Calico County.