A new 70 store shopping center would undoubtedly have a positive impact on any city or town in which it might find itself. But when the town is barely more than 4,000 people, such a development has the potential to completely change more than just the traffic count, but also the tax base.
The development is planned for 90 acres at the intersection of Arkansas Highways 22 and 59. FCRA Executive Director Ivy Owen has said the development could employee up to 700 people once it is fully leased.
The city of Barling levies a 1 cent sales tax on any purchase made within the community, giving the city an effective tax rate of 8.75% when factoring in state and county sales tax, as well.
"Depending on the number of stores, we're talking from 50% to 400%, depending on what stores go through," said City Administrator Mike Tanner.
For any city, those numbers are staggering. But in Barling, where Tanner said depending on the year sales tax collections between city and county combined bring in between $935,000 and $1.065 million, such an increase could change how the city operates city government.
"It would dramatically help us," he said.
Some projects Tanner is interested in should the mall go in and the tax dollars start flowing include an extension of H Street in the north of the city to Frontier Road, a new municipal complex on land at Chaffee Crossing or possibly a new fire sub-station.
All of the projects are needed, he said, though it could be years before the city is able to fund any sort of expansions that could add another fire station or take the municipal complex into a modern facility, instead of the current municipal complex located in the former Barling School building that was constructed in 1938. The building currently houses city administration and the city's police department.
City Director David Brigham said he believes the increase in sales tax revenue for the city will be about 300%, which he said would finally allow Barling to stand on its own two feet.
"I think what it will do for us will allow us to become a stand alone city without having any bedroom community-type name attached to it," he said.
Because the city could potentially draw enough revenue to not depend on municipal amenities from the city of Fort Smith and other surrounding municipalities, he said there were all sorts of different things Barling would be able to offer its citizens.
"Naturally, road improvements (would be priority). Probably we could do a sidewalk program. The improvement of the appearance of our town as far as new businesses coming in and things like that, it will give us some of the funds that we need to attract some other businesses into our town. Basically, it will just be probably about a 300% improvement to the city of Barling."
While many in and around Barling may be seeing green, Tanner has been cautious when it comes to thinking about a future that includes a large shopping center on the east side of his city. Just because the development could bring an increase in sales tax revenues, he said it is likely that the city would need to do infrastructure improvements to accommodate the shopping center and other growth expected down the road.
"Of course, you know we're going to have to do some water/sewer projects out in that area to facilitate that mall," he said, though the costs could possibly be shared with both the mall developer and possibly the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority, though he said it was too early to know for sure.
Another "growing pain" Tanner mentioned is the need to provide better fire protection for the shopping center and area residents. In order to provide that protection, it is likely that a ladder truck will need to be purchased for Barling's volunteer fire department in the future and those don't come cheap. Tanner said even on the low end, a ladder truck would run upward of $500,000.
No matter what happens with the proposed mall development, Brigham said the redevelopment of Chaffee Crossing is allowing Barling to finally shine, even if it is in the shadow of its much larger neighbor to the west.
"It's only right that as the city of Fort Smith has grown, Barling's going to have a chance to do a little growth of it's own. I think it's a real positive influence."