It was envisioned as another tourism draw for Northwest Arkansas.
But the Osage Creek Amphitheater, situated in southwest Benton County’s hills and valleys, never reached the finish line. It was originally designed to feature 5,000 permanent seats. The chairbacks were supplied by Australian seatmaker Camatic Seating — the same brand of seats found at Cowboys Stadium, the Sydney Opera House and Centre Court at Wimbledon. There were 60, eight-seat boxes. A hillside area would seat several thousand additional patrons.
Though the chairbacks are bolted in, the venue sits partially completed in a hard-to-reach area north of U.S. Highway 412. Take a trip to the OCA these days and you’ll find partially erected framing for the stage, knee-high weeds, a few empty beer cans and some vulgar graffiti spray painted on concrete.
Ramsay Ball would one day like to see the project resurrected. Ball and Wade Smith, brokers with Colliers International in Rogers, are marketing the venue to potential buyers. In fact, Ball said, there has been strong interest from a couple of Arkansas investment groups.
All-together, the property offering includes three tracts totaling about 240 acres along Logan Cave Road. The list price is $1.99 million.
“We’ve had quite a bit of interest on the property. It’s just a question of scale,” Ball said. “The original plans were something along the size of the [Walmart] AMP. Most folks who’ve expressed interest are scaling it back some.”
The outdoor music venue was the brainchild of Greg Smith. Smith, a Springdale native, owned the land, and first presented his development plan for the OCA to the Benton County Planning Board in 2004. It was approved and, because of revisions to the site plan, was approved again in 2008 and a third time in 2010.
After construction began in October 2010, Smith was so confident in the project he booked a Willie Nelson concert for June 3, 2011, and even sold tickets.
Construction languished, though, and the concert was canceled. That served as a harbinger of financial troubles to come. Without funding from any banks, Smith tried to privately fund the construction with his own money, and loans from friends and investors.
Multiple lawsuits were filed from investors who had loaned money, the most notable by Hawaii businessman Jeff Fisher, who owns a site work contracting business called Earthworks Pacific. In June 2011, according to court filings, Earthworks loaned $1 million to Smith’s Logan Farms LLC. Fisher personally loaned Smith $300,000 in October 2013, and another $100,000 in April 2015.
Smith defaulted on the loans, according to court filings, and Fisher eventually filed separate mortgage foreclosure suits in the spring of 2016. All-in-all, Fisher claimed he was owed more than $2.2 million.
Fisher acquired the property out of foreclosure last March and is attempting to get most of his money back through the land sale. He could not be reached for comment.
‘IT’S REAL SAD’
As for Smith, he did have a terrific idea. So terrific that one of the region’s most influential business leaders initially got on board.
Cameron Smith (no relation), who owns Rogers-based executive recruiting firm Cameron Smith & Associates, was given 15% ownership in the OCA. All he had to do was market the project using his numerous connections in the region’s vast vendor community. He was more or less an OCA ambassador, but never invested any money.
“If Greg had come to me with this idea on paper, I would have run for the hills,” Smith said. “But he had a venue that was already built and starting to put in seats. It was happening. When you walked out there and stood on the stage, you thought it was going to be incredible.”
Smith’s connection to the partnership faded later in 2011 after he underwent a quadruple bypass surgery. He said he visited the OCA site as recently as a couple of years ago.
“It’s real sad; it’s a beautiful setting,” he said.
Greg Smith declined to answer a list of questions from Talk Business & Politics-Northwest Arkansas Business Journal. He did, however, provide a statement.
“My original plans for the project did not work out, but I’m continuing to work to recoup the investment that I and others have made in Osage Creek. Unfortunately, I can’t comment in more detail at this time.”