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FCRA Chief: Chaffee Crossing in a different phase of development

story by Ryan Saylor
rsaylor@thecitywire.com

ArcBest's announcement of a new corporate headquarters at Chaffee Crossing, bringing with it nearly 1,000 jobs to Fort Smith, is just the latest big news to come out of what was once an aging U.S. Army Base.

Since the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority was formed in 1997 to redevelop 7,000 acres of land returned to local governments by the military, the area has transformed from thousands of acres of empty fields, forests and unoccupied buildings into an economic bright spot in an otherwise rocky local economy.

Following the ArcBest announcement, FCRA Executive Director Ivy Owen said the authority was down to about 3,000 acres left for development, "just less than half."

Of that, he said about 25% of the undeveloped land, located in Barling and Fort Smith, was intended for residential development, while roughly 40% to 50% was targeted for commercial and retail development. The remaining land, he said, was intended for industrial development.

Just in the last year, Chaffee has seen a mix of all of those developments, with the announcement of a new 70 store shopping center along Arkansas Highways 22 and 59, the creation of the Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine and the construction of several large housing developments. An expansion of Umarex was also completed within the last year.

The area is also home to modern manufacturing facilities operated by Graphic Packaging and Mars Petcare. Unfortunately, Chaffee Crossing is also home to a modern manufacturing and assembly building owned by Mitsubishi that was never utilized for its purpose of wind turbine production. The more than 400 jobs planned with the Mitsubishi plant faded when economics changed within the wind energy industry.

DIFFERENT DEVELOPMENT PHASE
Owen said FCRA is now transitioning into a different phase of development.

"I think there's going to be smaller scale developments just because, and particularly here at Chaffee Crossing, because of the configuration of our property now. We've sold a lot of large tracts and because of that, we now have a lot of smaller, specialized pieces of property."

He said the land available is suited for more high-end retail and specialized industrial sites like research and development labs or small-scale assembly plants "that didn't have to accommodate 1,000 employees."

As more land is sold and development continues, so does the need for upgraded roads and utilities. Owen said water and other utilities have now been installed for practically the entire 7,000 area and road projects have been following.

One road project underway is the H Street extension in Barling, which will lead to additional residential development by developer Steve Beam. The new shopping center will be south of the H Street extension, though Owen did not say whether any road projects are planned around the development.

Where Zero Street and Wells Lake Road meets near the site of the medical college and a proposed third Fort Smith high school, Owen has said repeatedly that a re-working of the intersection and relocation of Wells Lake Road would need to happen, as well as widening of Frontier Road. The project will take cooperation between the FCRA and the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department, though it still remains to be seen what will happen until the Fort Smith School Board holds an election in 2015 on whether to approve a millage increase that would fund the new high school.

THE INTERSTATE IMPACT
The completion of McClure Road will no doubt help traffic flow near the ArcBest headquarters and likely spur further development. At the opening of McClure Road in November 2013, Owen said construction of the last mile of McClure to Wells Lake could take place following a large land purchase along the route. So far, no plans have yet been announced for an extension of McClure to Wells Lake Road.

As for other development, Owen said the public should see a mix of commercial properties the Chaffee Crossing area now lacks, including pharmacies, dry cleaners and convenience stores. He said the opening in October of a 6-mile stretch of what will eventually be part of Interstate 49 will have a positive impact on development.

"We've sold property in the last year and a half for (those types of businesses) and I think once that interstate opens and these two things break ground, as you say (the medical college and ArcBest), then those things will start popping out of the ground."

But bringing infrastructure like I-49 or McClure Road into the area to spur development does not come cheap. To complete the small section of McClure that opened last year, the city and FCRA split the $1 million cost. The I-49 stretch's final cost is expected to ring in at more than $95 million.

DEVELOPMENT DEBATE
It is something often mentioned by advocates of downtown Fort Smith, who have made allegations that development at Chaffee is hurting the urban core of the city and any chance at development in the more than 100-year-old section of town.

As late as Tuesday (June 17), Central Business Improvement District Chairman Richard Griffin — himself the owner and developer of several downtown projects — during a meeting about the closure of A Street and the city's concerns about access to the river, commented that the city makes deals with developers and businesses looking to go in at Chaffee all the time and yet, he contends, no such deals happen for downtown development.

"We've had those cooperative efforts out east of town when things have gone in at Chaffee Crossing. 'We'll do this if the city will do such, Chaffee Crossing trust will do such.' It's not unusual."

Owen said he is a supporter of downtown and asserts that development at Chaffee has not been at the expense of downtown.

"If I were a property owner downtown trying to get my property developed, I would probably feel the same way. Not so much it's a detriment, but maybe Chaffee has an upper hand in attraction of these businesses. I've been trying to neutralize that feeling for a long time now because we're not competing with downtown or the older parts of town. Businesses come here because they want to be here. We have not recruited, as far as I know … to my knowledge, we have not recruited any business away from downtown Fort Smith that would have otherwise located down there."

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He said the growth was going to happen somewhere and if the land at Chaffee had not been available for development, businesses would have found someplace else to locate.

Whatever cost there is to bringing businesses to Chaffee, Owen said it is offset by an improved tax base and the creation of jobs.

As for how much longer the public can expect the redevelopment authority to be in existence, Owen said it would likely take another eight to 10 years before enough of the property is marketed, sold and developed for the FCRA to wind down operations.

"We will fade into the sunset. Probably what will happen is that the existing employees by that time, they'll have enough pre-warning that that is going to happen that they can secure other jobs or the businesses out here may be able to hire some of those people. Or the city and the county might be able to hire some of those. But by that time, as we dwindle down in terms of assets, so will our staff. We won't need as much staff at the end of the 12 years as we do now."

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Comments

Development Debate

The last part of this article explains a lot. I think it sums up why Fort Smith has failed, to this point, to evolve into an economic power house like NWA has done over the years. There's some utopian mindset that if the right people are powerful enough to regulate everything they can force businesses into downtown. A downtown that's highly regulated because of its "historical" status which are 100+ years old. You cannot classify every single building or area of town older than 30 years as a "historical landmark", regulate it and then expect to have a vibrant economy. It's just not logical because it doesn't appeal to more than just a small niche of businesses and types of individuals.

Regulate what

Your synopsis of the last part of the article makes me think your comment is on the wrong page. Nothing you said has to do with any comment by anyone quoted nor even alluded to. Downtown actually does not have much at all declared historical status nor is it over regulated. We have had quite a bit of remodeling down there and more in the works. Wiping out a store front to make a breezeway to a courtyard doesn't make me think people are hog tied to historical correctness. Your comment indicates an opinion founded on absolutely no facts.

Au Contraire

Rather than go with our historical bunch being a group who are eager to budge in order to make things work, I would instead entertain the notion that eventually everyone gets tired of 'For Rent' signs added to the fact the the Downtown Merchants Association is a little bit more powerful force to reckon with than the average Joe. Hence the change that might alter history a bit but also might make people more likely to hang around the rest of it.

The point is there's a

The point is there's a 'debate' because there is a certain group of people who will go all-in to fight against growth like Chaffee can potentially provide because they want to 'have Fort Smith's downtown bustling like it was in the early to mid 1900's.' And you don't think there's regulations concerning buildings downtown? If I wanted to buy an old building, or entire block, and bulldoze the old building(s) to construct an modern apartment + retail + condo + office building with 45+ floors could I do that? If I wanted to pick a spot of land on the river, buy it and build a set of twin high-rise condo's near downtown, could I do that? My guess is it'd be fought and there'd be an angry retirement mob out to run me out of town. You know what I'm talking about, you just don't want to admit it. It's a well-known fact that Fort Smith is too regulated for business. Fort Chaffee comes along, finds a small way around the regulations, to an extent, and people are crying that it's taking away from 'down town'. Good, I hope this so-called 'down town' becomes a vacant lot of 'historical' buildings. History has stimied growth for long enough.

Thank God For Chaffee Crossing

The SAME people that are casting the stones at Chaffee Crossing are the same ones that have their own personal agendas for downtown development. Close your eyes and just imagine what this sad excuse for a progressive city would look like at this point without all the development out at Chaffee Crossing, no jobs, no development, no nothing period. The Fort Smith City "Leaders" have done a very good job of stymieing existing business and detouring any new business from building here, oh I know we have been extremely lucky to land what we got out at Chaffee BUT facts are facts and this administration fights new development weather it be existing business expansion or new construction. I know these things for a fact because I am a developer/contractor and have seen it first hand for last several years, they run off more development then people can imagine and city directors only know what the administrator and dept. heads let them know. If you don't believe this then lets all talk. Until people wake up and cut the head off this snake (Ray Gosack) and vote to change the current form of government things are just going keep on passing us by. Certain city directors had better do what they know is right thing to do and start at the head and work towards the tail for the better of the citizens, you have to make some hard decisions in business sometimes and this city is NOT being ran like a business at all. Got a crazy idea, why don't you directors call an open meeting with developers, bankers, business owners, realtors, at the convention center and lets get this out in the open once and for all. You go anywhere in town associated with business and you hear the same thing, I cant grow my business or build new in order to add new jobs because city will beat you up so bad that its not worth the extreme hassle. So be grateful that Ivy Owen has done what he could to save Fort Smith from itself at the expense of his own exposer to some extreme opposition sometimes, but like I said sometimes you have to make hard decisions in business for the better of others.

Free Land Maybe

If someone gifted you with thousands and thousands of acres of free land that should have been deeded back to the original owners and you were able to sell the land to developers at a premium price, you too could be a great success!

Total nonsense

Yeah, the city would never be demolish old buildings, such as the old train station where the Holiday Inn now stands. Or the Goldman Hotel. Or where the Convention Center now stands. Or the old cracker factory building. Or.. you get the picture. Wait, no you don't.