CBID, Chaffee competing for sports facilities

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 158 views 

Commissioners of the Central Business Improvement District (CBID) know they’re in for a fight for the affections of soccer and volleyball groups in the Fort Smith region, but it’s a challenge the organization is prepared to face.

At its regularly scheduled monthly meeting on Thursday (May 24), CBID commissioners lamented losing the eight-field River Valley Sports Complex (RVSC) to Chaffee Crossing, but then addressed the key issue that kept the area from competing for the facility: infrastructure.

Commissioner Sam Sicard, who is also president and CEO of Fort Smith-based First Bank Corp., told commissioners he was hopeful infrastructure to a 51-acre plot on Riverfront Drive in the downtown area could be complete sometime in 2015, but he and other commissioners don’t wish to wait that long.

Introduced Thursday by commissioner Bennie Westphal was the possibility of locating an Indoor Soccer/Volleyball facility at B and 5th Streets, where Westphal owns around 11 acres that would support such a facility. Utilities are already available at this location.

Sicard then received approval to move forward on talks with the Fort Smith Express Soccer League, as well as the Hispanic Soccer League of Fort Smith, and the Fort Smith Juniors Volleyball Club, for possible placement at the location.

“There is receptivity (from clubs) to locate in downtown Fort Smith as well as other locations. Their main focus is on having something, doesn't matter where. So I’m now working on arranging another meeting and getting the volleyball and soccer groups together. There’s a need for soccer fields and volleyball courts in this region, and I know I’m biased, but we (downtown Fort Smith) have the tourism infrastructure with the Marshals Museum and our hotels and restaurants. It makes a lot of sense to have this down here in the area,” Sicard said.

Westphal speculated the facility could be “something like the Northside (High School) Activities Center,” adding that “it could be done for around $2 million.”

“I personally think downtown is where these facilities need to be, and it just creates a synergy that will help grow the area in every way. All the utilities are in place and a facility would be within walking distance to a lot of our attractions,” Westphal said.

At the last meeting of the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority (FCRA), overseers of the Chaffee Crossing development, Ivy Owen, the group’s executive director, had other ideas, noting plans were moving forward on a 265-acre planned unit development that would “serve as a planning document for future expansion of the sports complex,” noting that there currently exists room for two additional soccer fields, “to be built adjacent to the current ones.”

Owen indicated on Thursday (May 17) the Fort Smith Express Soccer League would operate any future soccer development and that the fields would become a “non-contiguous extension of Ben Geren Park, if all goes according to plan.”

In addition to this item, Owen announced he was in talks with the Fort Smith Juniors Volleyball Club, who according to Owen, “has expressed an interest in building an indoor volleyball facility,” which would be located “on the northwest side of the soccer fields (at Chaffee Crossing).”

Sicard realizes CBID has one disadvantage in competing for these sports clubs — namely that “other organizations in town are providing free land” — but he’s encouraged that utilities will no longer be an obstacle for competition.

Westphal added, “We (CBID) love our community, and it’s important to get this synergy going, and make it a happy place.”

Also Thursday, CBID commissioner Rick Griffin invited the public to installation of 12 historic plaques in downtown Fort Smith, featuring photos and information of key historic Fort Smith figures and locations. The event will take place on Tuesday (May 29) at the Immaculate Conception Church parking lot at North 13th Street and Garrison Avenue.