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Fianna Country club owner says closure not an ‘idle threat’

story by Ryan Saylor
rsaylor@thecitywire.com

While the Fort Smith Planning Commission unanimously approved the proposed planned zoning district for a proposed $20 million renovation of Fianna Hills Country Club, its future before the Fort Smith Board of Directors is far from certain. What is more certain is that the owner of the club is ready to close the doors if the Board rejects or significantly amends the new zoning district.

When the PZD comes up for a vote at the Board's April 1 meeting, at least one group of residents will come armed with a petition to limit possible uses within the PZD, according to Lisa Clay, who is leading the petition efforts.

"We are asking that (the Board) approve it as amended," she said.

The amendment, Clay said, would remove several property uses from the PZD, including medical concierge, doctor office and clinic, residential detached, family group home and professional office.

"I think that the main issue is the professional offices, medical and doctor offices and clinic," she said, adding that there is concern of what could happen to the country club should the planned $20 million development by developer Lance Beaty with Fort Smith-based FSM Redevelopment Partners fail.

"Our main issue is if the country club doesn't have enough interest, if he doesn't have that, then what is he going to do with the country club? I asked him this and he said he would use it for one of the proposed uses."

Clay's petition, which has more than 200 signatures, has attracted a lot of attention, including from the Fianna Hills Property Owners Association. FHPOA President Pat Ross said his organization has been supportive of the proposed development of the country club ever since Beaty brought the idea to property owners.

"We support the building of the Fianna Hills Country Club and Suites as Mr. Beaty has proposed and indicated he was going to do," Ross said.

But Ross said his view of the project changed following a presentation to the association by Clay, in which she explained what could happen should the country club under Beaty's ownership not be successful. As a result of the petition and Clay's assertion that Beaty could convert the country club into offices or even possibly develop the golf course into homes and apartments under its current R-2 residential zoning, Ross said he spoke with Beaty.

"Mr. Beaty called me and we started talking. I told him the board supports him building the country club and the suites. We're fully supportive of it," Ross said. "He said the (original business model of obtaining) 500 members at $30,000 apiece will probably not work. That will probably never come close to working. Basically what I'm going to do is build an office complex there and build homes on the golf course. I said that's news to me and I was not aware of that. That's where the property owners association has come in and said we'll support a new country club or renovation, but we're not supporting anything other than that. The PZD needs to sustain itself exactly where it is. The country club, we're in favor of it remaining there. That's kind of where it is."

Reached for comment, Beaty denied telling Ross that offices and homes were part of the plan.

“That comment is simply not true or is completely out of context,” Beaty said.

Beaty said his plans are to construct the country club as presented to the FHPOA and the Planning Commission. Should it need to be scaled down, it will be — all depending on market conditions.

“The plan out there is what you might call an A10 plan. If we have to go down to an A7 or A5 plan, depending on what the market will support, I will. But I’m telling you the highest and best use of that property is a club and golf course,” Beaty said.

Clay has said she has concerns regarding any sort of so-called plan B from Beaty's group and has said residents are looking at their own options should the amended PZD fail to be approved. She said there is also interest in Fianna Hills from a Dallas-based developer, ClubCorp.

"They buy country clubs that are failing and keep them a country club. They don't have a plan B that has the option to turn it into a professional office complex. So those are two pretty good options. We (wouldn't) have to worry about Mr. Beaty's plan B. Let someone else buy it who will keep it a country club."

Reached for comment late Thursday (March 27), ClubCorp Communications Specialist Patty Jerde would neither confirm nor deny that the company is looking to purchase Fianna Hills Country Club. David Mille, the owner of Fianna Hills Country Club, and Beaty said they approached ClubCorp and Troon Management. ClubCorp was not interested, but Troon has said it is interested in managing the golf course and club if Beaty is able to gain city approval to proceed on the $20 million project.

As for whether the Board will approve the originally proposed PZD or an amended version as requested by Clay and her petitioners, it is anybody's guess. Polled in just the last few weeks, there was not consensus on how the Board would vote.

Even without a consensus in the Board's responses to The City Wire, Clay said she felt confident an amended PZD would pass.

"We've heard back from most Board members, but we're still meeting with Board members. The response has been positive. Most are completely on board with keeping it a country club and member suites. They are still investigating and trying to learn more about a plan B and what these other uses could do for the community."

Mille, who owns Mid-South Steam Boiler and Engineering, scoffed at Clay’s assertions that there are ulterior motives with the plan.

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“That’s totally ridiculous,” Mille said when asked about Beaty wanting to close the club to build an office complex. “Think about that. ... He’s got hundreds of thousands of square foot of open space remaining there (former Phoenix Mall). He surely doesn’t want to turn the golf club into an office complex when he’s got all that other space at Phoenix that he’s trying to sell for office space.”

Mille also countered talk that others were willing to buy the club if Beaty’s plan were not approved, saying that he has not been approached with any offers. He also challenged assertions that his talk of closing the club if Beaty’s plan is not approved is just a hollow threat.

“It’s not an idle threat. I assure you. My problem is that I’ve been subsidizing the operating capital of that club for years, and it’s gotten to the point that it’s taking a toll on me financially. And if he (Beaty) doesn’t buy it, i’m going to close it immediately.  ... when it starts to hurt your other businesses, I mean, I’m just not going to do it anymore.”

Continuing, Mille noted: “These people opposing this and spreading rumors and bad information to try to stop this, they don’t see what they are doing to Fort Smith. I have a lot of friends who are members there and I enjoy having a place for them to buy a drink or whatever, but I can’t keep subsidizing all that just because they are friends. ... Nobody is lining up to do this (buy the club), and so if this (Beaty plan) doesn’t work, you’ll see a lot of weeds and grass on the course, because I’m not doing it anymore.”

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Comments

Team Country Club

I am shocked to see that Mr. Beaty denied interest in turning FHCC into a professional office complex considering the fact that he told me (along with the FPOA president) that was the plan if there wasn't enough interest in the $30,000 country club concept. If this interests you, please attend the April 1 directors meeting.

Team Concept

Lisa, would not attend a Fort Smith BOD meeting if you paid me because the people that ask questions about the waste of taxpayer money are not respected or given explanations. Why should Mr. Beaty invest 20 0r 30 million dollars of investor money on a project that would lose money? He is leaving his options open to recover for his investors. Wouldn't it be nice if your leadership (BOD) in Fort Smith operated in the same manner to eliminate 1,000,000.00 losses on the Convention Center where salaries exceed total income? If the Country Club is successful and can attract major golf tournaments, thousands of people will visit Fort Smith and spend millions at local hotels, restaurants, clubs, and eating places along with our city being placed in the national spotlight. Home values around the golf course would skyrocket and everyone in the city would benefit because business in all areas would boom. just my thoughts.

What Does Forth Smith Need Most

Jobs, Business, Jobs, and its hard to believe that some people are so short sighted and mean spirited that they would try to stop a $20,000,000.00 dollar project that would benefit every other business in the city. Its no wonder that Fort Smith is losing business and people at an alarming rate. Is there any real Leadership in this city?

the purse

If Lisa Clay does not like the Beaty Concept for the 20,000,000.00 dollars project then she should buy it and do it her way. The old saying is so true "put your money where your mouth is". Just sayin'

The Purse

I believe you answered you own question "the purse".....the homeowners and club members do have their money (where their mouth is) in this project and some have the actual gumption to stand up for what they believe will devalue their investment in their homes. As a businessman this should be evident! Just sayin

Pipe Dream

I hope Beaty can convince 500 people to give him $30,000 a piece for no equity in the club. The $20m beautiful Country Club will never happen. As Beaty has said, it will be converted to one of the other requested uses if he doesn't have the commitments. Where the money for Beaty lies in breaking up the other 150 acres not in the requested PZD.

Dreams Are Start Of All Real Progress

Sorry to hear all these complaints about what could be a real shot in arm for a terrible Fort Smith economy. 20 million in spending on a construction project could be as much as 140 million dollars of economic impact if we use the numbers quoted by one of your city leaders on your convention center.

Ins And Outs Of Doing Business In Fort Smith

Its hard to get started and get past all the City regulation nonsense and now the poor Golf Course owner can't get out! Its no wonder that all the new business starts are in NW Arkansas. What happened to the City advertised buyers for the Whirlpool plant and what happened to the wind generator plant? Contamination, patents, and a "not in my neighborhood" gang is a trio of hard hits to the economy of Fort Smith.

We have citizens that want

We have citizens that want growth only if it benefits them and they seem unable to see the bigger picture. Their not in my backyard syndrome has crippled Fort Smith to the point that we will eventually see a lower quality of life than the generation before had. If someone is willing to invest $20 million in our community we are stupid to reject that. This is why Northwest Arkansas is growing by leaps and bounds and the Fort Smith region is stagnant.

Stagnant Is Correct

Very weak City Leadership allows the city ordinance cry babies to rule but we do have an outstanding Fire Department that is a credit to the people of Fort Smith along with very dedicated city workers who get the job done even with the absence of quality leadership.

Never Say Never

"will never happen" has been said too many times in The Fort so don't discount Mr. Beaty because he has created more jobs in The Fort than all the naysayers combined! Do you hear me Mr. Mayor who ran on a platform of job creation? Do you hear me Mr. City Administrator who is so unfriendly to job creators?

What if a group of people were all connected

nowadays where they could call up the Wrath of Khan on city leaders whenever necessary in order to help one another no matter if it were hookers on 12th, a business selling nighties on Garrison, or if someone somehow envisions double tractor-trailers chugging to the top of Fianna? What if it's leader urges Ft Smith citizens to call and complain if they see something they don't like all the way from inop vehicles to country clubs? Make it harder or easier to run the city?

The Khans Are Connected

Every time the City Leaders do something really stupid and need a diversion to place attention elsewhere, here come the Khans to the rescue so people will stop talking about the overspending of 2 million taxpayer dollars on the Water Park with a Company that has been charged with paying 2 million dollars in bribes to officials for construction contracts.

Run A City?

Nobody is in control because we have a city that is run by an inept committee and loose cannon Code Rangers. We are getting left in the dust by Northwest Arkansas.

You know it is conceivable

There are lot of groups here and if one were to consider them as 'foot soldiers' there still exists one additional group that in comparison could be viewed as an 'Armored Division' since it boasts a reach into 29 different Ft Smith neighborhoods. Many members of other groups are also in it and they are well known to try to help one another out. The goals of this group curiously enough, are uncannily similar to Ft Smith's $300k Comprehensive Plan which doesn't think new and fancy should happen that far out and should in fact happen closer to the original core members of this latter groups homes instead. Would be very ironic if the people at Fianna ended up getting round bales out of the deal.

If Directors Amend, Then Walk Away Lance

Fort Smith is fortunate to have a Lance Beaty in its private sector. What he did for Phoenix Village was nothing short of a miracle. As a Fianna Hills resident and one who lives on the golf course, I have no concerns at all about Lance improving the country club and the golf course into very viable assets. I do hope Mr Beaty makes it very clear to the Board of Directors should they amend and remove several of the property uses from the PZD, that he simply walks away from the project.

If Only We Had

Four(4) people like Lance Beaty on the Fort Smith BOD, Fort Smith would be rocking with projects and job creation but we have to settle for a whole lot less. Agree that Beaty should walk away from the project if the BOD is not cooperative and do his project in a more business friendly city. If Beaty had not made Phoenix Mall successful, the city would have had a 10% unemployment rate with tax revenues in the already overtaxed sewers.

Wasteland

Before Lance Beaty came along and created jobs and business at Phoenix Mall, it was a empty wasteland and an eyesore for the community. Did any current or past city leader have a clue on what to do with this property that was an embarrassment to the city? Now this same group of blank minds want to throw a monkey wrench into his golf course project that could inject new and much needed life into the Fort Smith economy so agree that he should walk away from the project and let the "not in my neighborhood" people come up with a plan like a new campus for the homeless.

Fianna Country Club

This is a perfect example of how the citizens, not the city government, are the agents against change or progress within the community. Circumstances dictate change but the community collectively drags its heels at every turn in the road. Perhaps a country club and golf course are no longer feasible and there is a better quality and economically beneficial use of the facilities. Yet regardless of circumstance or potential benefit, without a doubt there will be a fight to the death to prevent any change. Just as the city rightly embraced the new drone mission over the soon-to-be completly decommissioned A-10s, we all must be willing to look beyond today and see the future. Are we going to embrace change as with the 188th mission or will we drag our heels, look the other way and later pay the price for our intransigence as was the case with what was an inevitable Whirlpool closure?

Sunday July 27,1997 is the date on the article

on my desk right now. Strib Boynton had just resigned shortly after 3 city directors had tried to fire him. The writer lists his many accomplishments which were attained at a cost much less than other municipalities were paying. He had developed a reputation for being straight with the voters and keeping his pledges to them it also says. But not enough had happened in the downtown area? Was it the next administrator that got the new civic auditorium? The Neighborhood Coalition had been formed in 1995 here and both then and now it tires to exert enormous pressure on who get to be or stays a Ft Smith City Director or Administrator. As a business it can lead to ruination to cross paths with them and as a poor person it can be even worse. There is some intertwining of groups here but this one might just be the 'mother lode' of them all. Could they be the local experts at down and dirty tricks as in stopping a petition drive on a businesses parking lot or causing those subpoena's to be delivered inside black SUV's?
on my desk right now. Strib Boynton had just resigned shortly after 3 city directors had tried to fire him. The writer lists his many accomplishments which were attained at a cost much less than other municipalities were paying. He had developed a reputation for being straight with the voters and keeping his pledges to them it also says. But not enough had happened in the downtown area? Was it the next administrator that got the new civic auditorium? The Neighborhood Coalition had been formed in 1995 here and both then and now it tires to exert enormous pressure on who get to be or stays a Ft Smith City Director or Administrator. As a business it can lead to ...>> Read the entire comment.

Strong Confident Leadership Gen4

will not submit to the bully tactics of the sometimes misguided efforts of The Neighborhood Coalitions. Everyone is entitled to their opinions and has a right to have their voices heard but Strong Confident Leadership will do what is best for the main body of the city and that includes all people. Great cities have a little of something for everybody and that is where Fort smith is falling a little short.

Very true but like Jong-Un shooting his uncle..

..what happens can't help but have an effect on any other potential targets for a long long time. Thought it might help to back up and take a look at things and so far it does seem like preventing a small group of non-elected people from having a major effect on many others around them is one of the bigger reasons we came up with governments to begin with. They will almost always go too far.

Good Response Gen4

"In matters of style, swim with the current; In matters of principle, stand like a rock". "they will almost always go too far" is when strong leadership is needed to nudge them back to reality. "No man has a natural right to commit aggression on the equal rights of another, and this is all from which laws ought to restrain him". Additional quotes reported to have come from TJ from the Petrie Collection. So the Neighborhood Coalitions have their rights and all other people have equal rights so proper balance and good leadership decisions are an important part of the puzzle to solve this issue.