An item before the Fort Smith Planning Commission Tuesday evening (July 8) could convert the historic Maness schoolhouse into the first commercial business to locate at the Chaffee Crossing development on the east side of the city.
Owner Brenda Gregory of the Red Rooster Bistro confirmed that if the property at 8801 Wells Lake Road is rezoned by the planning commission and the Fort Smith Board of Directors from not zoned to commercial, she and her husband, Kenneth, would expand their business to include a third location at Chaffee Crossing.
The proposed restaurant development would sit on about 2.58 acres at the intersection of Massard and Wells Lake Roads, according to a development plan review submitted to the commission, and will "utilize the existing Maness Schoolhouse for a 120 seat restaurant with the associated parking. If approved, they will be adding a kitchen and enclosing the existing outdoor patio area as well as remodeling the existing structure."
The location is part of a larger tract of land purchased by developers Jim Meadows and Ronnie Rouse's RUM Inc. on July 7, 2011, according to records held by the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority.
The FCRA records indicate that RUM Inc. purchased 38.84 acres of land for a sale price of $971,000. At the time of sale, FCRA Executive Director Ivy Owen described the development of the land as being “similar to the Hendrix College development at Conway with commercial and retail centers scattered in.”
Attempts to contact Meadows Tuesday were unsuccessful, but the development plan review submitted for approval did not specify any further development at the site at this time.
Pat Mickle of Mickle Wagner Coleman, the agent for the restaurant development, confirmed that no firm development plan for the rest of the property was in place but said he expects "some sort of mixed use deal. It would be some mixture of lighter commercial and some residential, but I don't know. You can't tell what form mixed use will take."
Mickle said the type of mixed use he expects in the future include possible commercial structures that have businesses on the ground floors and apartments on the second and third floors.
The zoning request for the site, Commercial Light (C-2) allows for such developments, with the development plan stating the zoning would allow for a "wide variety of retail uses including clothing stores, specialty shops and restaurants."
"C-2 zoning is appropriate in the Commercial Neighborhood, General Commercial, Mixed Use Residential, and Mixed Use Employment classification of the Master Land Use Plan," the development plan said. The plan also states that the restaurant will be able to accommodate 120 customers and would have 55 parking places.
Gregory explained the layout of the restaurant, including the addition to the schoolhouse, when reached by telephone Tuesday. She said the one-room structure on site would be kept in its original state on the exterior of the building, while the interior would be used as the seating area.
"The old school house has such character. That will be kept as our dining area," she said. "Hopefully the city (planning commission and board of directors) will give us permission to build a new kitchen. The old school house was a one room school house built by German prisoners of war in 1943 and that will remain untouched on the exterior. We will just remodel on the inside. It will be a real neat and pretty place. We'll have outside dining, as well."
Gregory said she has no fears about adding her third location at the Chaffee Crossing development and being the first restaurant to build in the area because the site is already busy with residents and employees of other businesses, with more to come. In all, Gregory said the restaurant would employee somewhere from 20 to 25 people.
"When you drive out there, that area is just growing very fast. As far as a business, we will be the first. You know about the industry that is out there, but as far as commercial, I will be the first. … They are building a church out there. There are multiple subdivisions and there are apartments. … I feel like it is the upcoming place for Fort Smith. That is the only direction Fort Smith can go to grow."
She said the possibility of a new high school and the planned osteopathic college are another reason why she and her husband decided to expand beyond their current locations on Rogers Avenue and inside the Brick City Emporium.
No date has been set for a grand opening, Gregory said, as the re-zoning will first need to be approved by the Fort Smith Board of Directors at a later date.
Mickle said he did not have an estimate for the total cost of the restaurant development.
The re-zoning passed the planning commission Tuesday evening with a 9-0 vote.