Fort Smith Board of Directors approves subsidy for Parrot Island Waterpark

FORT SMITH, Ark – The Fort Smith Board of Directors on Tuesday (Nov. 17) approved an appropriation of $119,771 from the city’s general fund to subsidize Parrot Island Waterpark following a difficult summer season.

Located at Ben Geren Regional Park, the waterpark is jointly owned by the city and Sebastian County, who contract the management and operations of the park to American Resorts Management. The waterpark operated with a deficit of $297,973 over the summer, said City Administrator Carl Geffken.


Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the waterpark opened with limited capacity in order to maintain social distancing. While not in the water, visitors were required to wear facemasks. The American Resorts Management did receive $131,000 from the payroll protection program because they operated the park, but the park had a net loss of $164,000 for the season, Geffken said.

Also, the city’s contract with the park requires it has $75,000 in working capital. There was some question whether the park had that working capital at the start of the season but not now. City Director Lavon Morton asked the payment be made pending research of that $75,000.

The total amount the park needs to make up for the losses accrued in 2020 is $239,542, of which the city is responsible for $119,771, Geffken said.

“Had Parrot Island not opened this year, the deficit would have been an additional $190,000, according to the management firm,” Geffken said. “The deficit was smaller by opening. Crowds were smaller this year, but we had people come from two to three states away to Fort Smith because we were open.”

Geffken also suggested to the board that budgeting for the waterpark for 2021 be postponed to late in the first quarter of 2021 in order to see how the pandemic plays out in 2021.

In other business, the board tabled an ordinance that would set pet licensing fees at $25 a pet (either dog or cat) if altered and $50 if not altered annually. That would change an ordinance adopted by the board in 2019 that sets fees at $10 for the lifetime of a pet if altered and $60 per pet annually if not altered.

Deputy City Administrator Jeff Dingman said in a memo that DocuPet, the company the city would use for pet licenses said that “pet licensing programs suggest that a simplified approach with a clearly delineated annual fee provides the best chance of success in obtaining resident compliance with a pet licensing program.” The fees would also help pay for the cost for animal control and DocuPet services.

Morton moved the item be tabled for discussion at a study session in January. The board unanimously agreed. The board approved an ordinance May 20 to delay any pet licensing fee until at least April 1.

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