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Chaffee Crossing continues growth: development makes its name, helping lift all of Fort Smith area.

Ivy Owen doesn't expect any future mega announcements for Chaffee Crossing like those of the past couple of years.

Owen, the executive director of the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority in Fort Smith, oversaw $3 million in property sales in 2015 as the 7,000-acre Chaffee Crossing community continues to see its available property get packaged and sold.

Owen estimates that about 1,500 acres remain in the development, and almost all of that is composed of lots ranging from 5 to 20 acres.

"Big things can come in small packages," Owen said.

Then again, Owen suddenly points out a large property colored red on a map on the wall. It's 200 acres and was originally going to be part of a land swap with the Arkansas Army National Guard in a deal that never materialized. Why, that could be Chaffee's next blockbuster.

"No, I'm not teasing you," Owen said. "What I'm hoping will happen is some entity, commercial-type or mall-type development, that can use 200 acres in that strategic location will be making an announcement this year. That's a gut feeling. It's hopeful. I've talked to some people who may have an interest in it. There's nothing on the table."

Owen thi nks it will take seven to 10 years for Chaffee Crossing's remaining property to be sold.

Once that happens, supervision and control of the land, which lies within the city limits of Fort Smith and Barling, will revert to those cities and Sebastian County.

Long-Term Vision

While it seems today that Chaffee Crossing is one of those blessed developments that seems to fall into one handsome deal after another, Owen remembers a much leaner time.

In recent years, Chaffee has had fun things to announce: ArcBest Corp. was building a new $30 million corporate headquarters that would employ nearly 1,000; an osteopathic medical school was moving onto 200 acres the FCRA had donated, and it would bring good-paying jobs, several hundred medical students and, eventually, improved medical care.

Chaffee Crossing, on the strength of the last few years, has approximately 1,700 residential units and has generated more than $1 billion in capital investments since the FCRA was founded in 1999.

Owen, 70, joined the FCRA in late 2007 just as a major recession was sending real estate development into shock. Chaffee Crossing was closer to a boondoggle than it was a bonanza.

Owen and the FCRA board of directors had a vision for what they wanted at Chaffee Crossing, and despite budget anxieties amid the recession, they held to it. Not that it was always a piece of cake.

"Early in the bud get year, when we start getting offers to buy property, it was really tempting to say, 'Let's take it. We can worry about what it is going to look like later,''' Owen said. "But we didn't do that. We stuck to our guns. Now I know the wait was worth it."

Rising Tide

Chaffee Crossing's rise happened just as its primary mother city, Fort Smith, suffered economic troubles, none more devastating than when Whirlpool closed its plant in June 2012.

Fort Smith has worked to recover in a post-manufacturing environment and has spent considerable time and effort on revitalizing its downtown area.

It's a trend that many other Arkansas cities, such as Batesville (see Page I), Bentonville and Fayetteville, have undertaken.

Several of Chaffee Crossing's success stories came at the expense of downtown. ArcBest had originally looked for a spot downtown for its new corporate office, and Fort Smith Brewing Co. bought property in Chaffee's Historic District when it couldn't get approval for a downtown site.

Owen has made a concerted effort to dispel any idea that the two economic areas of Fort Smith are competitors.

"Some folks think it's a city unto ourselves, and we have to tell people we're not, 'We are a part of Fort Smith," Owen said. "That is a compliment to our marketing program for getting our name so well known. It is Fort Smith. There is so much synergy between us and downtown. I thought we needed to publicly come together and say we're not working against each other.

"I keep remembering to say, 'We're in east Fort Smith.' I don't say, 'We're out th ere in Chaffee Crossing.'"

Fort Smith Mayor Sandy Sanders has unique knowledge of Chaffee Crossing because he was executive director of the FCRA before Owen. Sanders said Fort Smith's recovery has been fueled by the distinct engines of the city that include Chaffee Crossing and downtown.

"If I'm a developer, I wanted every development on my property," Sanders said. "Everybody realizes that not everything is going to happen at Chaffee, and not everything is going to happen downtown. We all need to put our best foot forward and do what helps the city in general."

Sanders and Owen said that cooperation has expanded to the other cities of the River Valley, including as Barling, Van Buren, Booneville and Paris.

"A lot of that goes back to 'Friday light Lights' syndrome with football teams, one community against each other," Sanders said. "The mayors all realize this is a regional type of thing.

"We all do need to work together. It's a mindset that the leaders of the community can foster that we're all in this together.

"Arising tide lifts all boats, as they say."

Fort Smith and the FCRA are also working together with the Arkansas Highway & Transportation Department to expand Highway 22 to five lanes to ease future congestion when ArcBest and the medical school facilities in the past 18 months after ArcBest and the medical school announced their Chaffee Crossing futures. Those improvements were needed because of increased commercial and residential interest in the area.

"I think we have it well underway," Owen said. "People believe in us now. Chaffee Crossing is really going to be something, and it's here to stay. Chaffee Crossing is a buzzword in Fort Smith."

By Marty Cook


Caption: Ivy Owen says the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority stuck to its guns when it faced rough times, and "the wait was worth it."
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Title Annotation:SPOTLIGHT: Commercial Real Estate & Development
Author:Cook, Marty
Publication:Arkansas Business
Geographic Code:1U7AR
Date:Sep 19, 2016
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