Food Bank donation alters homeless campus plan

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 137 views 

One group’s loss is another group’s gain, unless you are the Old Fort Homeless Coalition (OFHC) and the River Valley Regional Food Bank (RVRFB), in which case a loss could lead to gains for both organizations.

In January, the two groups were closely aligned in development on the Riverview Hope Campus, a planned 142,000 square-foot facility that would integrate all homeless services under one roof.

But following a report in January 2012 from Dr. Robert Marbut Jr., an expert on homelessness issues, the RVRFB had an opportunity “fall in its lap,” according to Ted Clemons, the group’s director.

“When I took over as director of the Food Bank in mid-April 2011, this project was a major goal. When someone hands you a donation like that, it’s a big deal. It’s just a blessing from the Good Lord, and one you can’t pass up,” Clemons said.

The donation Clemons was referring to came from the Thomas F. James Family Realty Limited Partnership. Located at 1617 Zero St. in the old Price Cutter building, the new River Valley Regional Food Bank was officially gifted in a ceremony on Wednesday (March 14).

According to county tax records, the property donation is valued at around $2 million.

The RVRFB was set to be a major part of the Riverview Hope Campus, according to Fort Smith Housing Authority Executive Director Ken Pyle, who also oversees the OFHC. But their departure is one Pyle understands, and the OFHC will move forward to make the Riverview Hope Campus a reality, Pyle said.

In fact, on Tuesday (March 13), Pyle announced that a facility has been located, though the deal “still has some matters pending,” such as “the completion of a Phase I Environmental Review.”

The new campus, instead of occupying 142,000 square feet could end up in a machine shop at 320 S. E St., (around 30,000 square feet), though nothing is a “done deal,” Pyle said, until the review is completed and final negotiations are entered.

Groups that will continue to show involvement with the campus are the Salvation Army, Next Step Day Room, and the Fort Smith Housing Authority.

In the OFHC’s goal to continue working towards integration of all homeless services, homeless persons could be transported to facilities of care by bus or van if the services are not available onsite.

Pyle admits the RVRFB’s departure was a plan-changer, but he’s encouraged by the amount of community support the Riverview Hope Campus is receiving. Still, he admits, there is more to do.

“We are still in the infancy stages, and learning a lot. We have literally thousands of decisions still to be made. We’ve made a lot, but still have thousands of choices about how we’re going to address certain issues. We’re closer to reality, but we’re just not there yet. We still have months of decision-making effort and collaboration to go,” Pyle said.

Original estimates for the 142,000 square-foot facility were around $2 million. It’s not yet known how the reduction in size will affect final costs, but the project has already received $125,000 from the City of Fort Smith and $249,801 from a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) with more grant applications pending.