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A Vision to the Future: First National Bank of Fort Smith unveils a historic renovation

A Vision to the Future: First National Bank of Fort Smith unveils a historic renovation

Changing a landmark and a leading bank by design … carefully

How’s this for a challenge? Change an iconic downtown landmark, improving its customer’s experience and respecting its historical significance, while operating a busy bank.

That’s what First National Bank of Fort Smith has done. After many months of construction, a very carefully designed renovation, restoration and update has been accomplished. The bank will celebrate the completed project Aug. 9 with an open house from 5-8 p.m 

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The grand re-opening will echo its original opening, attended by almost 12,000 citizens, according to bank president Sam T. Sicard. 

When the eight-story bank building opened in 1910, it could be described as having been Fort Smith’s first “office park.” First National Bank did not occupy the entire building. Many floors were leased by lawyers, doctors and other businesses. Today, the bank uses almost all of the space, although there are business tenants.

Sicard delegated oversight of the enormous project to senior vice president Anne Dunn. Her team included Studio 6 Architects, Beshears Construction Inc. and many subcontracted professionals. She also selected interior decoration with Gwen Seamons.

Sicard, who says he is a “big picture guy,” said he is very happy with the results. “I wanted to preserve the history but do it in a modern way,” he said. “I think that is what Anne and the architects and contractors and everybody involved did.”

“It had some restoration and preservation,” he said, “but it also had a modern feel to it. We revealed the original ceiling, for example, which is restoration and preservation. But we contrasted that with some modern features, a lot of glass ... That juxtaposition somehow compliments each other in a unique way.”

Throughout the project, the bank remained open and served customers smoothly by shifting functions from one area to another as the work progressed, a testament to staff cooperation and smart logistics. 

In today’s banking, fewer customers come inside for services. Besides using drive-through teller windows, people now access bank services by phone, desktop computer and, increasingly, with personal digital devices. 

“Still, many of our accounts are opened at the main bank downtown,” he said. “It is interesting to me that even though they may not primarily use this bank, they start at this bank.” Actually, customers can be helped with almost all bank services at any of the 23 First National Bank branches.

“It’s not just about the bank. It’s also pride in our community. This building is a part of the image of downtown and the image of Fort Smith,” he added. “We want people to take pride. We want to look like a vibrant, progressive, forward-thinking community. We’re proud of what we are, but we are continuing on.”

“When I heard about 12,000 people here in 1910, I thought about what it meant to the community then,” Sicard mused. “This building was a huge statement – to have a modern, expensive high-rise in Fort Smith. It said, ‘We’re a place of commerce.’”

“A big part of why we want this to be for the community, now, and not just for First National, is because the community paid for it, ultimately. It’s the loyalty of our customers that made it happen. That’s why we feel compelled to do things for the community. We are using a portion of earnings from those relationships of being able to grow businesses, help someone buy their first home or first car. We’re returning that back to the community. It’s showing our gratitude.

Design notes: Everyone involved knew the iconic lobby was ‘all about the marble.’
The Studio 6 architecture team of Marty Cormier, Shannon Reith and James Reddick, with Beshears Construction and Majestic Marble, found ingenious ways to re-use and preserve the familiar white marble originally installed in the lobby. The space is filled with glass. Its grand exterior windows are now glazed with energy-efficient glass. The ‘universal banking’ service spaces are a modern design note, transparent and light. 
Photos by John Cross Photography

This article appears in the August 2018 issue of Entertainment Fort Smith Magazine.

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