by: Ivy Owen
A ton of enthusiasm is moving Chaffee Crossing forward. Much has been done, much is underway, and much is planned for the future. It is the cumulative efforts of business and community leaders working together across two cities and two counties.
The new Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine is complete. A new ArcBest Corporation headquarters is well on the way to a spring of 2017 ribbon cutting. A 6.5-mile stretch of future I-49 is complete. Twenty residential neighborhoods are either completed or underway. Nine years ago, none of this was even imaginable and now it’s reality.
These successes are just the tip of the iceberg. Because of the 1,700 rooftops appearing at Chaffee Crossing and jobs being created, retail and commercial development is beginning to take shape. A number of small professional offices have opened within the past year or so and others are planned. Seven churches have claimed Chaffee Crossing as their current or future home. UAFS and ATU-Ozark have satellite classrooms here attracting year-round students.
With all of this new activity, the Chaffee Crossing Historic District has become a focus of retail and commercial growth. Diades Investments has purchased five warehouses in the Chaffee Crossing Warehouse District and will soon begin an extensive repurposing of the buildings. This can result in two restaurants, a museum, professional office space and additional leasable space.
Across the street will be the new Fort Smith Brewing Company, a micro-brewery to be housed in a former Army warehouse. A retail furniture store, Old Fort Furniture, has opened on Fort Chaffee Blvd. These new ventures will serve as anchors to what will become a pedestrian- friendly shopping area complete with retail shops, restaurants, brewery tasting rooms and more. Imagine live-above retail, book stores, coffee shops, ice cream parlors, music stores, salons and spas–the list is long and the possibilities real.
The repurposing of these former WWII buildings is a dream come true to many of us who had a vision for the district—a vision that did not include demolition. We plan to save as many of these buildings as possible by encouraging local entrepreneurs to invest in the future of Fort Smith by renovating them and opening needed businesses.
The buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places and qualify for rehabilitation tax credits available through the state and federal government. We are in the process of creating a new Planned Zoning District (PZD) for the Warehouse District that will be ‘use specific’ and provide design guidelines to ensure the integrity of the area. Our vision is that this will become a premier mixed-use, walkable shopping and entertainment district for years to come.
All of this complements a virtually complete industrial area that has helped create more than 1,400 full-time jobs with another 1,000 coming on-line in the next 18 months. Many volunteer hours have been put in at Chaffee Crossing over the past 15 years. Since my tenure began in 2007, countless volunteer hours have been donated to this concerted effort through board meetings, committee meetings, museum operations, festivals, the Veterans Day Parade and other activities.
Our governing board consists of nine volunteers and community leaders who represent local communities, political subdivisions, businesses and educational systems. The FCRA board is responsible for the oversight of our operations and to make sure that our staff stays focused on our mission. That mission is to redevelop the property received via BRAC in 1995, to get the land back on the local tax rolls, to create jobs and housing, and to ensure that all the region has the opportunity to benefit from the successes.
As proof of our success, the Association of Defense Communities awarded FCRA the Base Redevelopment Excellence Award for the second time in four years. This prestigious national recognition affirms that we are on the right track and that what we are building will have lasting appeal for generations to come.
Obviously, the job isn’t complete. We still have 1,900 acres left to market and develop. What lies ahead is unknown, but I have a vision for the future of Chaffee Crossing and I intend to pursue this vision as long as I am here to guide the program.
Ivy Owen is the executive director of Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority in Fort Smith. He is on the board of the National Community Development Council, a member of the Board of Directors of the Southern Economic Developers Council, the I-49 International Coalition, the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce, the River Valley Regional Intermodal Transportation Authority, the Fort Smith Trolley Museum, and the Chaffee Crossing Historic Preservation Organization.