Future remains uncertain for Fianna Hills Country Club

story by Ryan Saylor

For anyone expecting more drama surrounding a proposed planned zoning district for the Fianna Hills Country Club, expect to be disappointed.

In an e-mail from Fort Smith City Administrator Ray Gosack to members of the city's Board of Directors, Gosack said the proposed PZD originally scheduled to be considered at Tuesday's (May 6) meeting was not something the owners of the country club wanted to see passed during the meeting.

"I spoke this afternoon with Jim Shields, co-owner of Fianna Hills Country Club, about his interest in the PZD application on tomorrow night’s board meeting agenda," Gosack wrote. "Mr. Shields said that he and his partner have no intention to undertake a project like that proposed in the PZD application. He said that he doesn’t believe a prospective buyer would ever have interest in the proposed project. Mr. Shields asked that the board not approve the PZD application, and to leave the zoning as it currently is."

When reached Monday for comment, Fianna Hills Country Club co-owner David Mille said he would not comment on the matter.

The application for the PZD was originally sought by developer Lance Beaty of Fort Smith-based FSM Redevelopment Partners. Beaty, who had successfully redeveloped the former Phoenix Village Mall into an office complex that now employs more than 1,200 people, had proposed purchasing the country club and investing $20 million to rebuild the country club with amenities such as guest suites and a medical concierge service.

His plans to redevelop the property hit a snag when residents of the Fianna Hills neighborhood began to not only express vocal opposition to the project, but also started a petition to limit possible uses under the PZD.

Lisa Clay, who lead petition efforts to amend the wording of the proposed PZD, said she and other residents had concerns about the types of uses allowed within the PZD. Concern also arose from the Fianna Hills Property Owners Association, with President Pat Ross claiming that Beaty had told him the plans for the $20 million country club redevelopment would not work and he instead would build an office complex at the site, a claim that Beaty denied to The City Wire.

The future of the club remains uncertain as the club's owners have changed their outlook for the club multiple times. Initially, Mille said he and Shields could not keep the club open with its current business model, which they said has been losing money for several years, even saying that closing the club was not "an idle threat."

The two men then held a meeting with members of the club in April where they laid out in clear terms the current financial situation at the club.

"But there will come a point if we cannot turn a profit, where we are going to have to close it," Mille said. Shields was clearer, telling members that the club only had one to three months of life left in it.

The men said there were two interested buyers following Beaty's pulling out of the project, one that is a private group and another that is led by a group of Fianna residents. Clay and her husband have also been trying to lead a group of residents to purchase the club, though at that meeting Shields confirmed that no formal approach or offer had been made by the Clay group.

With Mille declining to comment on the latest developments, the future of the club is anybody's guess.