Chaffee Crossing “doesn’t want to be in the golf course business,” but for another year, it looks like it may have to be, according to Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority (FCRA) Executive Director Ivy Owen. And as membership and user activity grows, that may not be such a bad thing.
The FCRA director said by Feb. 1 there had been “160 more rounds” of golf played in January 2012 than in the same period of time, 2011.
“I think we’ve picked up some members from Greenwood, and I also see some, who had quit going (to Deer Trails), but are now coming back,” Owen said. “We have about 90% of the restoration done. The attitude over there is incredibly different. It’s just a bright, airy place, and looks like a place you want to be. The food’s better and membership is improving.”
Owen credits the approximate $150,000 in improvements made to the facility since October 2011, including approximately $60,000 into the clubhouse, and said Chaffee Crossing is “currently in talks” to lease the restaurant to an independent operator and offer “liquor-by-the-drink” to attendees. Owen did not feel comfortable divulging the name of the operator, but hopes to have a deal in place “very soon.”
At the November FCRA meeting, Sebastian County Judge David Hudson warned board members about taking on the golf course.
“I think you should proceed with extreme caution. You’re picking up a liability here,” Hudson said.
Owen, however, sees a brighter future for the attraction.
“I really and truly believe that we can make a profit over there,” Owen said. “By the time we advertise this investment, and taking into account the dollar amount we were required to spend to get the facility up to city code, I think we’ll be profitable in a year and a half. In the meantime, people over there are happy. Players are coming early and staying late. We’re getting new memberships, and we haven’t even marketed it yet.”
Owen continued: “When we took over, we had 147 dues-paying members. My goal is to have 200 by July 1 and 250 by the end of the year.”
The FCRA planned on losing $67,500 in the property over the next year, and the previous leaseholders — the Morale, Welfare, and Recreation division of the Arkansas National Guard — showed the facility as a loss. However, Owen feels the previous numbers are not “accurately representative of what the golf course can do,” because the military’s goal was not to market the facility as a business. He also notes “the military was not required to maintain the facilities to city codes.”
Owen said the FCRA would consider offers to purchase the land now, though it is not “actively pursuing” a deal. He added: “We’ll be in a better position if we establish a track record showing how it can really do, and then we take it to market.”
If the 119 acres is not sold by year’s end, the board will decide on an active plan for long-term use.
“We just need to see if it is an asset valuable enough for us to retain and operate as the RV park, or if it’s marginal, or if it would be better owned by a developer,” Owen explained.
Owen added: “I’d certainly entertain a developer. I’ve seen it happen at Hot Springs Village and the Woodlands in Houston. People buying lots just to play on the golf course, and never even building a house. There are about 100 acres all across Taylor Avenue that could be developed office and residential, and it could be an ideal amenity. Buy a condo from us and get a (golf course) membership. In fact, that’s my preference.”