Arkansas Sen. Jake Files, R-Fort Smith, and Sebastian County Board of Election Commissioners Chairman Lee Webb are asking the Fort Smith Board of Directors to remove Riverfront Drive from consideration for the $1.6 million River Valley Sports Complex.
The complex was championed by Files and Webb, and approved by voters for Chaffee Crossing during the March 2012 vote for the existing 1% sales tax extension. It has since stirred competition among city leaders.
At last Tuesday’s study session (April 10), Fort Smith city directors agreed to entertain a proposal at their next regular meeting (April 17) to consider moving the location from Chaffee Crossing to Riverfront Drive.
The proposal met with opposition from Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority (FCRA) Executive Director Ivy Owen.
“(Fort Smith Fire Department Chief) Mike Richards and I went out on the trail campaigning for the bond extension and spread the word about the new fire station and the ball fields being built there (at Chaffee Crossing). I’ve received emails from people asking why we’re going to let the ball fields go Downtown instead of at Chaffee Crossing.”
Owen continued: “There are no infrastructure costs at Chaffee to worry about, no floodway, no lease to get out of, no cost involved from the city other than to say, ‘Yes, we’re gonna do what we said we’re gonna do.’ For the record, I support Downtown development, but this is the right thing to do — to put them where you said you were going to put them in the first place.”
Files said he’d been approached “by members of the Central Business Improvement District (CBID)” for Downtown Fort Smith and “certain individual (city) directors” to consider a move.
At the time, Files and Webb did believe the complex could spur investment in Downtown Fort Smith, but they have ultimately decided it is more important “to maintain credibility with the voters.”
Their joint statement issued Monday (April 16) noted: “While we want the Riverfront to develop and expand, we also have a desire for this Sports Complex to be built without being an additional burden to the taxpayers and without needed large infrastructure improvements.”
The “needed large infrastructure improvements” would run the City of Fort Smith an additional $2.3 million on top of the $1.6 million cost that met with voter approval.
“The bottom line for us is that we were less concerned about where this Sports Complex was located and more concerned about doing it right for the future benefit of all participants,” the joint statement read.
The statement continued: “The location at Chaffee Crossing has utilities and infrastructure in place, and it would allow a construction start this summer with the earthwork and would allow the facility, with the assistance of the Parks Commission and Parks Department, to host tournaments and games in 2013.” (See full statement at end of story.)
While Files did not indicate which specific members of the City Board of Directors or the CBID had approached him about moving the complex, the April 10 study session found Director Andre Good and CBID Member Richard Griffin voicing support for the move.
“I’m excited. Any time we talk about riverfront development, and how it affects the Downtown area, it excites me. I also think that at either location, it’s going to be a success. But putting it on the riverfront will be a catalyst to stir development and encourage investment on the north side of town,” Good told board members.
Griffin added that “Chaffee Crossing is going to be a success regardless (of the move)” and encouraged the board to invest in the 51-acre Riverfront Drive location, indicating the decision would spur economic development in Downtown Fort Smith.
On Monday, Good said he was satisfied with the statement from Files and Webb.
“I think they are making the right move. I think they made the right choice with making this statement,” Good said, adding that those involved “don’t want to break the citizens’ trust, or even to appear like we are doing that.”
STATEMENT FROM JAKE FILES AND LEE WEBB
We have worked for over six months on our concept of a Sports Complex for the River Valley that will be something that will make all of us proud, be a great place for recreation for our youth, and also be a place to drive economic development for our Region.
We dutifully have shared proposals with the City Board of Directors, the County Quorum Court, and other groups interested in seeing development of our recreational facilities in the Region. We also have been instrumental in helping the Parks Commission realize its goal of a sustainable funding source for the Parks Department and for future benefit of all of our citizens.
In this process, our vision has grown and has developed into something that we think has stirred great momentum and opened dialogue about what our recreational opportunities could be. We have also been asked to bring proposals such as the one we brought earlier to the Board considering alternate locations from where we originally had planned to be at Chaffee Crossing.
While we want the Riverfront to develop and expand, we also have a desire for this Sports Complex to be built without being an additional burden to the taxpayers and without needed large infrastructure improvements. In light of this fact, and the fact that we have presented our proposals to be located at Chaffee Crossing since the inception of this project, we respectfully ask the Board to move with haste in allowing us to proceed at Chaffee Crossing with the development of the River Valley Sports Complex.
We want to be clear in doing our part to maintain credibility with the voters along these lines, and we also believe there to be significant room for future expansion at Chaffee Crossing, which was a concern to us as we began to see what other possibilities could be developed in the future with a well-thought, comprehensive plan.
The bottom line for us is that we were less concerned about where this Sports Complex was located and more concerned about doing it right for the future benefit of all participants. The location at Chaffee Crossing has utilities and infrastructure in place, and it would allow a construction start this summer with the earthwork and would allow the facility, with the assistance of the Parks Commission and Parks Department, to host tournaments and games in 2013.
Finally, this is a non-profit venture to which we have not nor will receive any compensation. We simply are working together, as community leaders both Democrat and Republican, for the best of our youth and the future of our community. Thank you to the voters for approving the tax for the Parks Department, and we look forward to the Board being decisive and moving forward to enable the continuation of this process.