FCRA Board hears about $14 million donation to medical college

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 151 views 

The Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority on Thursday (May 22) approved a group of land deals, appointed the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith's chancellor to its board and heard about a $14 million surprise donation to a planned medical college.

The land deal that drew the most attention was the request from the Arkansas Colleges of Health Education for an additional 27 acres of land now committed to Fort Smith Public Schools. The land is part of a larger commitment to the district as part of its plan to build a third Fort Smith high school. Should the deal fall through and the district not use the land by the time FCRA's offer to donate the land expires in 2021, ACHE wants to have the land as part of its campus, which will be adjacent to the planned Fort Smith high school.

The 200 acres of land ACHE has already secured from the FCRA was donated by the authority, while the option for first right of refusal on the 27 additional acres already committed to the school district would be sold for $200,000.

FCRA Board Chairman Dean Gibson did question the deal, not necessarily on its merits, but instead based on past policy set by the Board.

"I know within the last year we said we weren't going to do any more options, we're just doing right of first refusals. I hope we're not making a mistake in doing that," he said, questioning whether the term "first right of refusal" listed in the contract was the proper terminology since there was a set price, similar to how "options" have normally been structured with buyers at the FCRA.

FCRA Executive Director Ivy Owen said the deal, which he had created with ACHE CEO Kyle Parker, was an exception to that policy and would not change how FCRA does business. Additionally, it was determined that the terminology was correct, making the deal with ACHE a first right of refusal should the district fail to build the high school on the property offered for donation by the authority.

The contract with ACHE was approved unanimously, after which Parker spoke of momentum with which the school was starting to take shape.

He said the hiring of Dr. Ken Heiles as dean of the ACHE was helping the Fort Smith area's first medical school move forward faster than anticipated, meaning the school could enroll its first students by August 2016, though accreditation must still occur before any dates could be set in stone.

Parker said the Fort Smith Regional Healthcare Foundation, the group starting the ACHE, had also recently received an anonymous $14 million donation, bringing its cash available for the project up to about $80 million, which could help the timeline advance should accreditation occur as expected.

"They don't want their names on the building, they don't want a matching fund, they don't have restrictions and they wrote us a check for $14 million. So our foundation now sits in excess of $80 million in cash and capable of moving this process very quickly, so we're obviously very excited about this project and what the impact it will have on this community."

One impact already known was approved Thursday, as well, and it is an 11-acre land deal that would have Steve Beam's Chaffee Commercial Properties developing retail and office space along Frontier Road across from the medical school campus. The deal closed at $40,000 per acre and is meant to "complement the medical college," said FCRA Real Estate Committee Chairman Galen Hunter.

Other land deals included the sale of five acres along H Street to Beam that would complement a 10-acre tract he is developing for residential real estate. Hunter said the five acre addition would house about 41 lots for residential development.

MMR Holdings also exercised a first right of refusal on an additional 3.59 acres, allowing it to expand its location at Chaffee Crossing with parking and other items to meet the needs of the company's lease holders.

One year extensions to complete construction were approved for the Rock Landing Development, The Reserve Apartments, and RUM Inc. The commercial developments are near the future I-49, while the apartment complex is along Chad Colley Boulevard.

The Reserve will start taking tenants in the next month, Hunter said, though not all three phases of the complex have yet been completed.

The appointment of Dr. Paul Beran, chancellor of UAFS, was unanimously approved following the resignation of Drew Williams.

"He's an economic development educator. … He believes that, of course, education supports economic development, so it was, to me, a natural fit for him to be on our board because being the chancellor of that university and we work with so closely with him anyway as a partner with the city and the Chamber (of Commerce), the university and us," Owen said.

Beran said he was excited to be on the Board and also noted it would be a good fit for him and the university.

"When Ivy asked me to be on the Board here, I jumped at it. We've worked very closely, we've always worked very closely as he said in the comments. And he's on my Board of Visitors, so we have some cross-pollination by him knowing about the university being on the Board of Visitors, me knowing what's going on out here at Chaffee being on his Board, it just makes for better communication and opportunity."