Between 200 and 300 jobs could come back to Fort Smith if attorney and land buyer David Harp, Union Pacific, and the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority (FCRA), can work out a deal soon.
David and Douglas Harp will make the trip to Omaha, Neb., along with FCRA Executive Director Ivy Owen, on Feb. 22, to negotiate the possibility of Union Pacific installing a trans-loading facility at Chaffee Crossing.
On Tuesday (Feb. 7), the FCRA granted the Harps a 1-year option on 304 acres of land for approximately $2.5 million ($8,500 per acre). The Harps agreed to pay the FCRA 1% earnest money ($25,000), which is non-refundable after 90 days. The option begins Feb. 8.
David Harp told board members that “if the deal hasn’t happened in a year, it won’t happen,” but said he’ll have a strong idea following the Feb. 22 meeting.
“I would like to see the first warehouse built within six months,” Harp said, noting that it would occupy 250,000 square feet of the requested land purchase.
One contingency Harp placed on Union Pacific is that, of the 200-300 new jobs the organization estimates could come to the area, the company would hire only local people. Union Pacific told Harp they would bring their own management teams, but the bulk of the jobs would belong to local Fort Smith residents.
“A trans-load facility is something I’ve been wanting to do since I walked in the front door here,” Owen said. “Now that we have this rail upgraded to the point it is, and a lot of people know about it, we get calls most every day asking why we haven’t done something like this yet.”
Owen continued: “We think this will be a boom for Chaffee and the city of Fort Smith in terms of activity and job generation, not to mention the secondary jobs it will create. Two weeks ago, I wasn’t very encouraged about this whole thing, but talking to Union Pacific as much as I have, I’m pretty encouraged now.”
Harp confirmed Union Pacific’s enthusiasm for the project, stating they suggested the idea during planning stages for a stalled auto auction site he was considering.
“Their engineers said, ‘You’re making a mistake (with the auto auction site). You need to do cross-docking.’ As it went along, they convinced me and Douglas (Harp) we should be doing a railhead in here and setting up an intermodal facility,” Harp said.
To move forward, Union Pacific required the Harps to have claim to more than the original 26 acres they had planned for the auto facility. Tuesday’s option request was for an additional 304 acres separate and apart from the land initially purchased, which Harp feels may still “one day” become an auto auction site.
Owen told The City Wire after the meeting that the Chaffee Crossing development has 1,800 “developable acres” left before running out of land. Should Harp’s option become a purchase, that would bring the total down to around 1,500.
Also Tuesday, board members sold 5.4 acres on Roberts Boulevard to Brian Goodwin, who will take over the land once inhabited by Petro Gold. Goodwin said his business would serve the same purpose of reclaiming and recycling compressor oil for the oil and gas industry, but would require a name change, which has not yet been determined. Goodwin’s offer of $79,200 was approved unanimously.
Two additional board approvals were granted to Liberty Rose LLC, and South Point Assembly of God. Liberty Rose purchased 5 acres on Massard Road west of Chad Colley Blvd., for $120,000. The land purchase will result in multi-family housing units. South Point Assembly of God’s offer for 13.74 acres will serve to build a new family life center and expand its church. The offer was accepted at $125,000.
The board rejected one offer from Massard Retail LLC. The initial offer was for 10 acres at $250,000. While board members approved of Massard Retail's commercial plans for the area, they decided the land was a more valuable commodity and countered with an offer of $350,000. Representatives from Massard Retail were not in attendance to respond.
The next regularly scheduled meeting of the FCRA will take place March 15.