story by Ryan Saylor
Plans to drastically alter the appearance and business model of the Fianna Hills Country Club are continuing to move forward, with plans for a $20 million investment in the property.
Lancy Beaty, a partner with Dr. Stephen Nelson in Fort Smith-based FSM Redevelopment Partners, said one of the biggest hurdles in moving forward with the project so far as been finding a way to zone the revamped country club, which is zoned by the city of Fort Smith as R-2SF, or a residential zoning that permits country clubs.
"Under that definition, a country club is permitted, but it's a conditional use," Beaty said. "There's an existing conditional use as an existing country club, but if you combine the attributes that we are combing there — including the guest suites — there's no definition in the zoning code that defines that particular group of attributes together."
As a result, Beaty is working with the city on the creation of a planned zoning district (PZD) for the country club, which he described as "hybrid zones." It’s only the third time the city has worked with a developer through a PZD process.
The new zone would allow FSM Redevelopment Partners to continue with plans to build an expanded Fianna Hills Country Club on the property's existing footprint while adding features including guest suites, which Beaty said would only be available to members and their guests, not to the general public. The policy will keep the facility from being a bustling hotel open to the general public, and instead will continue serving the needs of club members through the expanded amenities.
NEW LOOK, NEW SERVICES
The overall look of the structure will change with the planned expansion of the facility, Beaty said, with the facility having a "modern rustic" look, which would appear to mimic a lodge. Renovation will including stripping the facility down to steel and concrete and then rebuilding.
The addition of guest suites and a change in appearance are not only meant to modernize the club, it is meant to revolutionize its business model as it expands offerings beyond a golf-focused venue.
Among the offerings at the facility will be an updated menu at the club's restaurant, the addition of an airport concierge service as well as the addition of concierge medical offerings for those who choose that level of membership.
"We have the airport concierge service. Those folks that travel a lot are able to just come to the club and they can leave their car there and we'll be able to carry them to the airport and pick them back up," he said. "That's in our elite membership package, along with the concierge medical that's in the elite package. …It's more wellness management. You know, the ability to have somebody that knows you and can address your concerns with medications or prescription refills."
Beaty is quick to note that the club will not host a full acute care clinic, but he said prescriptions can be delivered to an individual's home while other medical-related issues can be addressed quickly for elite members, a group that will be limited to only 100 individuals.
DIFFERENT FEE STRUCTURE
The changes Beaty and his partners have detailed for current members of Fianna Hills Country Club will result in a more expensive club membership, but he was quick to mention the changes members will get.
"It's more expensive in that it's structured differently. In most clubs, there's that fee-base (for membership), and that's what you pay plus any ancillary costs plus food and beverage. You know, you pay your membership — you know, your key to the door — then whatever you consume."
In the case of the revamped Fianna Hills Country Club, Beaty said there would be "a capital piece that is $30,000 and that capital piece is paid up front. You can write a check for it, or we made arrangements for people to finance that capital piece over various terms, whatever fits their budget."
"So they pay the capital piece to the financial institution and they pay the maintenance fee to us, which will be kind of like your monthly dues. So long story short, if you take that scenario and you blend it through their current costs now versus the new costs, it will cost them about $125 more a month if they financed the $30,000 piece."
The difference? A brand new country club, a vastly improved golf course managed by Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Troon Golf — a world-renowned golf course management company operating golf courses in 32 states and 27 countries — and amenities that set the revamped Fianna Hills Country Club apart from anything offered in the region.
For FSM Redevelopment Partners to feel comfortable moving forward on expanding the facility from 27,000 square feet to its planned 85,000 square feet, Beaty said his would need the commitment of about 500 individuals. Those individuals would place $1,000 deposits on the project, with the deposit sitting in escrow until the company closes its planned purchase of the facility following approval by the city of Fort Smith's planning commission and Board of Directors. The committed members would only pay up once the building is complete and there is a certificate of occupancy hanging in the building. It is a deal that Beaty has assured current and prospective members included no risk to them.
"People are committing that if we build it they're in," he said. "And we're committing that if you're in, we'll build it. It's a reciprocal commitment and we don't get anything until it's a done deal."
While Beaty said about 500 commitments are needed for his company to move forward with the project, he said membership would be limited so that the club’s overall customer base is no more than 2,500 people.
In a statement FSM Redevelopment Partners sent to the media on Monday (Feb. 3), Beaty commented on community reaction to the planned changes at Fianna Hills Country Club: “The proposed changes to the club were met with mixed reactions from the Legacy Members, and there was a bit of sticker shock with the capital investment required. However, I was very pleased with the number of membership reservations that were received and those funds have been placed in escrow at Guaranty Abstract and Title Company in Fort Smith pending the completion the project. We’ve received a positive reaction to our redevelopment plan, especially among area corporations and companies who see the benefit of our innovative approach toward a country club.”
The PZD consideration for Fianna Hills Country Club is scheduled for a hearing before the Fort Smith planning commission in March, with a hearing and vote before the Fort Smith Board of Directors at a later date.