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A sporting investment: Memphis businessman reopens Stuttgart hunting retreat for year-round use.

A year ago this month, Charles "Chuck" Smith Jr. realized a duck hunter's dream. He purchased one of the South's premier hunting clubs near Stuttgart.

Since the end of duck season in January, Smith has been marketing the facility as a site for corporate retreats and seminars.

Located 13 miles from Stuttgart on U.S. 79 near Wabbaseka, Circle T Sporting and Conference Center is in the heart of the lower Mississippi Flyway and adjacent to the Bayou Meto Wildlife Management Area.

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission estimates that more than 2 million ducks make the area their winter home.

Smith, president of National Guard Products Inc. at Memphis, Tenn., bought the 100-acre center from Coltec Industries Inc. of New York for a reported $200,000. He purchased 625 acres of adjacent hunting land from Jeanette McCormack of Little Rock for a reported $450,000. The club previously had leased the land for $9,000 per year from McCormack.

Coltec acquired Circle T when it purchased Central Transformer Co. of Pine Bluff in 1988. Central was a manufacturer of equipment for power utilities.

Coltec was known as Colt Industries Inc. before it sold its gun division and went private through a leveraged buyout.

A former president of Central who was an avid duck hunter built Circle T in the late 1950s.

Smith, 42, is trying to market the facility's luxury lodge that accommodates up to 20 people, a 60-acre fishing lake and an indoor heated swimming pool.

The Tennessee businessman, a Vanderbilt University graduate, played a major role in the relocation of Ducks Unlimited's national headquarters to Memphis. He has served as one of the well-known conservation organization's officers.

Buying It All

"They sold us everything from the pool tables and saltshakers to the dust and cobwebs," says Smith's wife, Elizabeth.

The Smiths had restored the facility by November, just in time for duck season. Of the 30-day season, Smith says he rented less than 10 days to clients.

"People who used it gave us rave reviews," he says. "However, we didn't lease as many days as we would have liked."

The problem was that few hunters in the Mid-South knew the old club was available for rent.

Smith says he wants to book up to 15 days during the 1992-93 duck season.

"I just want to offset some of the operating costs," he says. "I bought the place for my family to use."

Circle T leases during duck season for $5,000 per night. That includes lodging, meals and all hunting amenities for up to 15 people. A reduced nightly rate of $150 per person, with a minimum of eight guests, is available the remainder of the year.

Elizabeth Smith, who says the lodge caters to both male and female guests, calls Circle T the "Capital Hotel of Wabbaseka."

"Coltec didn't really understand duck hunting or the value of the facility it owned," Charles Smith says. "You can take a client out for a big-city dinner, but ... this form of entertainment is unmatched."

According to Smith, Coltec shut the facility down during the 1989 season.

"It was as if time stood still for two years," Smith says of the first visit he and Elizabeth made there in early 1991. "There were ducks in the freezer dated 1989. Food was in the cabinets, and even the saltshakers were left out on the table. They literally mothballed the place.

"It was as if Coltec had called and said, 'Duck season is closed. Shut the place down.'"

National Guard Products manufacturers weather stripping and thresholds. The company has estimated annual sales of more than $10 million. The Smith family has manufactured such products for almost 60 years.

With the increased popularity of duck hunting, purchases of land in the area have ranged from $560 to $1,150 per acre in recent years.

"Prime duck land continues to rise in value, especially in that area," one appraiser told the Memphis Business Journal. "What's great is that you can buy it, play with it and if you ever want to sell it, you can. And you won't lose money."
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Title Annotation:Across Arkansas; Charles Smith Jr. organizes hunting club
Author:Harper, Kim
Publication:Arkansas Business
Article Type:Company Profile
Date:May 25, 1992
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