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Developer pulls plans for renovation of Fianna Hills Country Club (Updated)

Editor’s note: See "Story Update" section for information from the Fort Smith Board meeting.

A proposed $20 million development of the Fianna Hills Country Club is no more after developer Lance Beaty of Fort Smith-based FSM Redevelopment Partners pulled the project from consideration at Tuesday's (April 1) regular meeting of the Fort Smith Board of Directors.

“I believe we had the vote (to approve a zoning request needed for the project to proceed). But it’s not just about the vote. It’s a business decision. It’s mathematics. ... In a deal like this let’s say that 100 things have to happen in an ordered manner for this to transpire. We got to say, number 60 and determined that it was not a deal for us. It’s that simple. We’ve conducted due diligence on this for months, and our risk-weighted analysis is that it is not a deal for us,”  Beaty explained.

Beaty declined to comment about efforts in recent days to scuttle the project, saying instead that, “I may have some additional comments at the appropriate time, but before the vote, I think it unwise.”

Fort Smith City Administrator Ray Gosack said the Board could still take action on the issue. He said the Board could table it, vote on it as is, or amend it. Gosack said Fianna Hills Country Club Manager Jim Shields has asked that the zoning issue be tabled until the May 6 meeting. According to Gosack, Shields said that would give club owners time to determine if there is other interest in the property and to see if the zoning change would help with that interest.

STORY UPDATE
The Fort Smith Board of Directors voted Tuesday (April 1) to table the proposed planned zoning district until owners of Fianna Hills Country Club can hear out offers from two other interested parties before moving forward.

Before the Board voted 6-1 to delay the PZD decision, City Director Keith Lau made his feelings known on the collapse of the planned development by Beaty and his business partner, Dr. Stephen Nelson, explaining that he had an e-mail from the country club's current owner threatening shut down should the PZD not go through.

"I have to operate on knowns and that's the known that I have to operate on the thought with my real estate experience that if that club goes dark, that if the golf course goes in disrepair, it is going to affect each and every property owner in Fianna Hills and I would hate to see that happen. That would be terrible. And in my guestimate, in my professional experience, that each and every owner will probably be dinged $10,000 worth of property up there and that's something that we can't allow."

Lau also said the controversy that erupted in the last several weeks surrounding Beaty's planned purchase and redevelopment of the club is an example of what drives investors and businesses to other cities instead of Fort Smith.

"I looked at it today and I'm thinking, 'What does this say about Fort Smith, how this all came down?' And people always ask me, 'You know, why isn't Fort Smith like Northwest Arkansas? Why isn't Fort Smith growing? Why aren't we doing what everyone else in the state is doing?' This is why we're not doing what everybody else is doing in the state. OK, what's wrong? It's our attitude, it's our what if it goes wrong attitude. What if we fail? It's not what if we succeed. I think everyone in this room thought that if this program that Mr. Beaty presented succeeded, that it would be an asset to the city of Fort Smith. I know it would have provided jobs. I know it would have provided economic development."

Lau also said he had a letter from the chief of staff from Mercy Hospital stating that the hospital supported the development, with City Director Pam Weber chiming in later to add that projects such as Beaty's now-scrapped plan were what would drive business recruitment in the region. During her remarks, Weber noted the far-reaching impact of the $20 million investment Beaty had previously been willing to make, asserting that the investment could have impacted the local economy by up to $60 million.

City Director Mike Lorenz said that contrary to what anyone may have thought, he and others were not opposed to the project, but instead to other land uses included in the PZD presented to the Board on Tuesday.

Also speaking at the meeting was Lisa Clay, who spoke with The City Wire last week and had a petition signed by more than 250 Fianna Hills residents asking that many conditional uses be removed from the proposed PZD if the Board were to approve it.

Clay did announce that she and several club members would meet with club owners on Thursday about purchasing the facility, though no formal offer is on the table.

Before the Board voted to table the item until the May 6 meeting, Lau attempted to rally support for voting on the PZD as presented, but received no support from fellow Board members. No further action on the item following the vote to table the issue.

INITIAL PLANS
Plans to redevelop the country club first came to light in November 2013 when Beaty confirmed that he and business partner Dr. Stephen Nelson were working with club owners David Mille and Jim Shields to purchase not only the club, but also the 18-hole golf course.

It was the second major planned investment for Beaty's company, which purchased the 35-acre site of the former Phoenix Village Mall when it was nothing more than a poorly-maintained site that included about 10 acres of structures. Since Beaty's purchase of the old mall site in January 2009, FSM Redevelopment Partners invested more than $10.5 million worth of improvements at the site, including a successful expo center that was open for about three years before closing to make room for a regional service center operated by Health Management Associates. In all, the former mall now houses more than 1,100 jobs.

CLUB CHANGES
The proposal from Beaty for the country club included the addition of guest suites for use by members and their guests, as well as the addition of a medical concierge service and other upgraded amenities. The country club would have also been gutted and rebuilt on its original footprint, expanding from a current square footage of 27,000 square feet to 85,000 square feet.

As part of the revamp of the club, FSM Redevelopment had developed a business plan that would have members joining the facility for a $30,000 fee that could be paid out over time, similar to the membership fee members of the club have already been paying. In order to make the club a reality, Beaty had said he would need about 500 commitments with individuals making refundable deposits of $1,000.

While there was some vocal opposition to Beaty's plan for Fianna Hills Country Club, things appeared to be moving in the right direction on March 11. It was on that evening that the Fort Smith Planning Commission approved a planned zoning district at the site of the country club by a vote of 9-0.

As the project moved closer to Tuesday's vote, more opposition started making their voices heard and left the project in limbo.

In statements to The City Wire published March 17, there was not a consensus among the Fort Smith Board of Directors on whether or not the PZD would pass the final hurdle of Board approval. Fort Smith Vice Mayor Kevin Settle said while he supported some aspects of the club, including the renovation and addition of member suites, he had about other uses included in the PZD.

"The concerns that have been brought to my attention by many citizens in the Fianna Hills area are the other potential developments that are being asked in the PZD. These other potential developments are something that I am going to research and get a better understanding on how they could affect the existing homeowner property values."

Fianna Hills resident Lisa Clay was among those expressing concern about the proposed uses within the PZD. Clay eventually launched a petition which garnered more than 200 signatures asking the Board to pass an amended PZD that would have removed several land uses.

Pat Ross, president of the Fianna Hills Property Owners Association, said a conversation with Beaty occured in which Beaty allegedly said he would turn the site into an office complex. Beaty said March 27 that Ross' allegations were "simply not true or is completely out of context."

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CLUB CLOSING?
Clay said at the time that she would like to have a company come in and keep the country club just that, adding that she was aware of companies interested in purchasing the facility. But when reached for comment, Mille said no other buyers had approached him about purchasing the country club, which he said is heavily subsidized by his other business ventures, which include Mid-South Steam Boiler and Engineering.

He also said that should the Board not approve the planned PZD for the land he currently owns, he would not waste any time shutting down the country club.

“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.”

Five Star Votes: 
Average: 4.6 (18 votes)

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Comments

Here's an idea

We should put up a real brick wall around the town to go along with the virtual brick wall we already have. ..and the decline continues....

Was that an albatross?

Many Fianna property owners apparently were far more concerned about the new club lowering their property values than having no one with any reason whatsoever to move to Ft Smith and purchase a home. I believe the guy who wants to develop that cow pasture on Massard may have gotten a little bit closer. This is what you get when you're developing a retirement city.

Fianna Hills property Owner

I am a Fianna Hills property owner and a member of the club for many years. Although I was not going to pay the $30 grand to keep my membership, I still wanted the plan to go through. Too many members have left to keep it a viable company and something needed to be done to keep the club open. I knew from the members meeting about the proposal that the deal would never happen. Mr. Beaty lied at the meeting, stating that the zoning was already there. He lied stating that local businesses were already on board. I asked one of the presentors at the meeting for a business card so I could request information to present to the company I work for and he stated he didn't have a business card and he couldn't send me the information. The reason the club is losing money is because of the lack of management for the last 10 years. There is a reason members leave. I don't blame Mr. Mille for wanting to close the club, i do blame him for not making sure the club is managed correctly so the membership can grow, not decline.

Most considered either A or B but wasn't there also a C?

I don't blame people at Fianna for trying to protect their property values but IMO only Keith Lau provided a dose of realism for everyone. It's likely to end up a vacant building now and maybe take the golf course with it for years. Too bad if double talk was handed to everyone in the earlier meeting but still somewhere we need to let something happen along the order of private enterprise in Ft Smith and not run to stomp on it whenever it tries to move. Beverly wants to move downtown...NO! ABF wants to relocate NO until they threatened to leave. A laundromat on 6th which is OK according to the rules so some picky reason had to found..NO! Fianna Hills...NO! Massard road..the guy had already spent over $163,000 and he still barely made it! Why do they even try here is what I found myself thinking when there are so many other cities in the nation? What if everywhere in the city a Coalition or an Association rises up to meet the occasion?

Right on

You're right on with the 'retirement city' comment. It's sickening what 50 years of old stagnation is doing to Fort Smith.

Can You Blame A Developer For Not Wanting His Hands Tied?

It is very interesting that Vice Mayor Kevin Settle fully supported the movement to force city sanitation onto the residents of Fort Smith when over 71% were satisfied with their private trash hauler. And that Kevin supported the city administrator forcing the 1% Prepared Food Tax onto the citizens without giving the citizens a voice, even to the point of supporting the city administrators decision to use police in big black SUVs delivering subpoenas to good, decent folks who were only guilty of collecting names trying to overturn the forced tax. But when someone steps up from the private sector with a project there is always certain aspects of the project that kill the deal. In this case as Vice Mayor Kevin Settle along with Director Mike Lorenz stated, they couldn't support the other land uses in the PZD. Maybe that is why most of the projects buying permits last month in Fort Smith were government projects?
It is very interesting that Vice Mayor Kevin Settle fully supported the movement to force city sanitation onto the residents of Fort Smith when over 71% were satisfied with their private trash hauler. And that Kevin supported the city administrator forcing the 1% Prepared Food Tax onto the citizens without giving the citizens a voice, even to the point of supporting the city administrators decision to use police in big black SUVs delivering subpoenas to good, decent folks who were only guilty of collecting names trying to overturn the forced tax. But when someone steps up from the private sector with a project there is always certain aspects of the project that ...>> Read the entire comment.

Vice Mayors and Vice

Is it considered a vice to enjoy spending money that belongs to someone else to make yourself feel more important and is it a vice to force a new tax down the throats of people without allowing them to vote on the tax?

Can you blame a developer for not wanting his hands tied?

Mr. Swink, as a resident of Fianna Hills, I am very thankful to have Kevin Settle as my director. It really strikes me funny that the ones that speak SO loud does not have a clue what is going on. The only way Mr. Beaty was going to build 20 million dollar country club is if he could get 500 members to agree to pay him 30,000 membership fee. He might of had 50, 60, or even 70 people to agree to that but most of us do not have that kind of money to join. We are raising our families and cannot afford to pay for a country club that expensive. I certainly do not see the benefits for the people in our community to have a business office in our country club. There are a lot of empty buildings on Roger's avenue that Mr. Beaty could buy. Trust me this would not have benefited anyone in the Fianna Hills community!!
Mr. Swink, as a resident of Fianna Hills, I am very thankful to have Kevin Settle as my director. It really strikes me funny that the ones that speak SO loud does not have a clue what is going on. The only way Mr. Beaty was going to build 20 million dollar country club is if he could get 500 members to agree to pay him 30,000 membership fee. He might of had 50, 60, or even 70 people to agree to that but most of us do not have that kind of money to join. We are raising our families and cannot afford to pay for a country club that expensive. I certainly do not see the benefits for the people in our community to have a business office in our country club. There ...>> Read the entire comment.

Not so sure about 'OUR'.

Looks to me like it would have been better to allow it to share some office space than to be shut down entirely. If the golf course closes it could take half a lifetime or more to figure out what to do there and I just read where Ben Geren is in the red. Sometimes it boils down to the lesser of two evils.

Can You Blame A Developer For Not Wanting His Hands Tied?

Annamay123..., I too live in Fianna Hills and have been a resident on the golf course for over 20 years, so one could say I'm very concerned about what happens in my neighborhood. But more than that, I'm very concerned about what goes on in Fort Smith. Not only has Vice Mayor Kevin allowed the forcing of city over private trash, the trying by force to raise a tax, using police to issue subpoenas to innocent people, but also he voted to raise residents water and sewer rates 3 times only to turn around and use $2.1 million from that same fund to provide utilities, which is typically a developers expense, to 60 acres of private riverfront property. Does that type of forced rate increases to use for other purposes concern you at all? So, yeah, I guess you could say I know exactly "what is going on" and I'm trying to be SO loud, that taxpayers will realize for themselves "what is going on" instead of just blindly accepting the activities of our city government.
Annamay123..., I too live in Fianna Hills and have been a resident on the golf course for over 20 years, so one could say I'm very concerned about what happens in my neighborhood. But more than that, I'm very concerned about what goes on in Fort Smith. Not only has Vice Mayor Kevin allowed the forcing of city over private trash, the trying by force to raise a tax, using police to issue subpoenas to innocent people, but also he voted to raise residents water and sewer rates 3 times only to turn around and use $2.1 million from that same fund to provide utilities, which is typically a developers expense, to 60 acres of private riverfront property. Does that type of ...>> Read the entire comment.

Yawn

Yawn!!!!!!! Jack, your diatribe has passed the point of useless and is now just downright silly. Do something productive for a change.

Yawn Pawn

Can you name one thing that your hero Kevin has done since elected too long ago to remember? You should be telling the guy that likes to beat up on the dog lady to so "something productive for a change". DumDumDumDum!

Elected

You said the key word, elected. Settle has been elected repeatedly and by an overwhelming majority. Quite apparently the vast majority of people disagree with you. And, it really to seems to bother you immensely that most people think your opinions are nothing more that the babblings of a malcontent.

Electrojet

It seems that the battery company that he works for has filed for bankruptcy 3 times and his actions as a Elected BOD member will probably bankrupt the city. Sometimes when people get elected to office, strange sparks start to dance around in their big heads causing the original mission of representing the people to be lost in the solar experience. I actually supported him in his run for office but am really disappointed in his arrogant altercated attitude reflected at the city meetings.

Yawn, Does The Common Taxpayer Bore You?

Yawn, which is the most boring to you... the most silly? The part where Vice Mayor Kevin Settle supported the city administrator trying to force the Prepared Food Tax without a voice of the people? Or maybe when Vice Mayor Kevin Settle supported the city administrator using police in big black SUVs delivering subpoenas to good decent citizens in front of their kids and neighbors? You probably think Kevin supporting the raising water and sewer rates 3 times only to turn around and support taking $2.1 million from that same water/sewer fund to provide utilities to 60 acres of private riverfront property an accomplishment don't you? Or you may like the way Kevin supported the city administrator forcing city only sanitation and forcing private sanitation companies out of Fort Smith, with even higher rates. Here is a fact you won't like, Jonesboro doesn't charge for trash pickup, it is provided to their citizens through their sales tax, which is lower than ours. We clearly need to change to the same form of government all the growing Arkansas cities in NWA and Jonesboro have, at least the person calling the shots is ACCOUNTABLE to the people. But then, you may not be interested in ACCOUNTABILITY to the citizens? Regardless of how silly or useless you feel my comments are, at least I don't hide behind some silly moniker. Stand up like a man and quit hiding in the shadows, behind some moniker. You will feel better about yourself.
Yawn, which is the most boring to you... the most silly? The part where Vice Mayor Kevin Settle supported the city administrator trying to force the Prepared Food Tax without a voice of the people? Or maybe when Vice Mayor Kevin Settle supported the city administrator using police in big black SUVs delivering subpoenas to good decent citizens in front of their kids and neighbors? You probably think Kevin supporting the raising water and sewer rates 3 times only to turn around and support taking $2.1 million from that same water/sewer fund to provide utilities to 60 acres of private riverfront property an accomplishment don't you? Or you may like the way Kevin ...>> Read the entire comment.

You can't afford not to

"........ cannot afford to pay for a country club that expensive....... our country club." Then pay too little and lose too much in property values. "......certainly do not see the benefits for the people in our community to have a business office in our country club" The benefit is more business, more tax revenue, broader spectrum of new visitors and homeowners, and increased property values. Anna May, be honest about it. You and your supporters are afraid of progress in your own backyard. I wish someone would put a Riverfron golf course and club in our neighborhood on the North Side. No more subsidies, no bailouts no public funds for your private club. Thank You and Best of Luck.

Jack, just once

JUST ONCE, I'd like to see you comment on anything about Fort Smith that doesn't say the following:1. Jonoesboro 2. Trash. 3. PFT 4. you not giving a suggestion of HOW to make something better instead of just complaining about the same old dead horses you can't say anything else against. Have you been to the town hall meetings to address these issues with the board in person? They are in fact looking for input and ideas from the citizens.

More Than Once Anon

The growth in Jonesboro and how they do business is a important issue that needs more study because Fort Smith is losing business and jobs at an alarming rate. Over 70% of Fort smith citizens were satisfied with their trash collection when the city leaders ran that business out of town to form their own monopoly to rake in money and that was and still is a huge problem. The Prepared Food Tax fiasco was a very serious mistake by city leaders and Fort Smith citizens had to take their own city leaders to court to preserve the right to vote. These Huge mistakes by city leaders should never be repeated and steps are needed to remedy these past transgressions to assure the people that their elected are capable of learning from their mistakes. If our city leaders really want to learn from the people, a good place to start would be correcting some of their past mistakes that hurt many people and city leaders should stop the attacks on people who disagree with their heavy handed tactics.

Apologies Are Due

from many of our City Leaders for their behavior that has been overly aggressive on people that disagree with them and their outrageous waste of taxpayer money. A little humility wouldn't hurt at city hall and then job creation should be the number one priority in moving Fort Smith forward to match the growth of other cities in the state.

Amen anon

But don't hold your breath! Contamination at whirlpool for 30 years kept secret, unnecessary water rate increases, sanitation boondoggle, millions in wasted study dollars, arrogance at director meetings, prepared food tax subpoenas, evictions from tennis courts, evictions from public parks, 2 million extra dollars wasted on the water park to get less, verbal assaults on business creators, outright lie about no funds to pay for TV broadcasts of directors meetings, over regulation of building codes, and the list goes on and on. Yes, many apologies are due the taxpayers and the people that have been hurt by these tyrants.

Humility Is Not A Virtue of Fort Smith City Hall.

Unfortunately, humility is not a virtue to be found in Fort Smith city government. City hall shouldn't be the engine of the economy or jobs, but should encourage and allow a free and competitive private sector to create those desired jobs.

Tyrants and Humility

The tyrants can be said to be an oppressive stop to job creation in the private sector thru the use of authority and power in out of control ordinance enforcement sector along with a total absence of being humble when addressing citizens with an opposing point of view at the BOD meetings which brings to mind the City Director that totally attacked and humiliated the Pet Lady at a past meeting. It shocks the conscience of a reasonable mind that the other City Directors, Mayor, and City Administrator did and said nothing to stop this assault on a citizen who volunteered her time to help man's best friend.

Civic Involvement

Get involved, over opinions, present solutions; get branded as a troublemaker. No thank-you. This town isn't worth it. If you want to make a difference in the town where you live, then rent a U-Haul and do it somewhere else.

Fianna Hills

What a shame that the club may close. I look forward to playing there when I go to FSM. Any idea what his asking price is? Our club in Dallas just closed and resold recently and is now rebounding with new management. I hope someone comes up with a plan to revive it.