Fort Smith Brewing Company to locate at Chaffee Crossing, new Chaffee retail center planned

by Aric Mitchell ([email protected]) 927 views 

Fort Smith Brewing Company (FSBC) has a new home at Chaffee Crossing after the Fort Smith Board of Directors earlier this month rejected an ordinance that would have allowed the business to locate in north Fort Smith.

The Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority (FCRA) approved an $85,000 offer to purchase Building 212 at 7500 Fort Chaffee Boulevard during Thursday’s (Nov. 19) meeting at Chaffee Crossing Headquarters. FCRA Executive Director Ivy Owen described the timeline of events briefly at the meeting, noting that he had reached out to FSBC co-owner Quentin Willard following the controversial vote by the Fort Smith Board on Nov. 3.

At the Board’s meeting, City Directors refused a unanimous recommendation from the city’s planning commission to allow for C-5 zoning to microbreweries on the north side of town, which has been C-5 since 1962.

The request failed 4-3, but also ignited a social media firestorm in part because a bar, tavern, or bail bond office could open immediately in the area, no questions asked. There was also the perception by many over why the Board voted the way it did.

Two preachers from congregations on the north side of town had spoken out against FSBC’s zoning request on grounds of “ethical and moral principles” shortly before the vote, representing the first public opposition to the proposal. Reverend Ulysses Washington of Mission United Methodist felt it was wrong to include a business, such as FSBC “so close to our communities of faith.”

As a result of the backlash, the issue came before the Board again on Nov. 17. During that meeting, three of the original majority defected — Directors Don Hutchings, Tracy Pennartz, and Kevin Settle — and opted to include microbreweries in C-5 as a “conditional use.”

Director André Good, who represents the north side of town, was the only Board member to stand by the exclusion.

Chaffee Crossing could make a better fit for FSBC. Willard is a United States Army veteran, and the building chosen for the microbrewery offers 9,043 square feet of space on 19,000 square feet of land area.

“We’re extremely happy with the outpouring of support from the community but in the end Chaffee Crossing has the perfect building that is move in ready. The Chaffee Crossing committee has been a pleasure to work with and we look forward to being a part of the amazing change they’re doing within the city,” Willard told Talk Business & Politics.

Willard said if all goes as planned, they hope to open the operation in early summer 2016.

According to the definition of a microbrewery/microwinery/microdistillery Willard submitted to the planning commission on Oct. 13, a business such as FSBC would produce no more than 15,000 barrels of alcoholic beverages per year (465,000 gallons) from a manufacturing facility no larger than 10,000 square feet.  Additionally, there would be a “specialty manufacturing” area no larger than 5,000 square feet. This area could be “with or without” a retail space.

Owen noted at Thursday’s meeting that the FSBC microbrewery would not include a restaurant, only manufacturing and tasting. According to the FCRA board, Willard’s proposal has a closing date of March 15, 2016.

Aside from Chaffee Crossing being the right fit for Willard and business partner Brooke Elder, Owen indicated that a microbrewery would be the right fit for Chaffee Crossing. The numbers certainly back that up. The microbrewery industry is growing. In 2014, craft beer sales reached double-digits (11%) in terms of market share of all U.S. beer sales. The amount of craft beer brewed grew 18% in 2014, and the value of the beer rose 22%.

The number of operating breweries in the U.S. in 2014 grew 19%, totaling 3,464 breweries. Throughout the year, there were 615 new brewery openings and only 46 closings. Also, craft brewers provided 115,469 jobs, an increase of almost 5,000 from the previous year, according to The Brewers Association.

Also Thursday, the FCRA announced Frontier Point, the first retail and commercial shopping center to be constructed in Chaffee Crossing. Chaffee Commercial Properties, LLC, led by owners Steve Beam and Rod Blake, acknowledged they have some tenants lined up, but are still in the process of filling out the development.

Front view of planned Frontier Point retail center at Chaffee Crossing.
Front view of planned Frontier Point retail center at Chaffee Crossing.

The 11-acre multi-phase development will be adjacent to the new Arkansas Colleges of Health Education campus and The Prairie at Chaffee Crossing, a soon-to-be-constructed apartment complex, which is expected to have around 188 units.

Phase one of Frontier Point will include three buildings divided into suites. The largest standalone will be 1,500 square feet with a drive-thru. Other suites will range from 1,200 to 1,400 square feet. Beam said adjacent development, including the new $30-plus million ArcBest headquarters building under construction in the area, is driving the need for commercial space.

“The interest in the development has been unbelievable from business owners who are anxious to be at Chaffee Crossing. They want to be here because of the spurt of growth in housing, schools and other businesses here. This type of shopping center is really needed for the people who already work here and for the people coming with the medical college and the new ArcBest Corp. headquarters. People have really been pressing us for commercial space,” Beam said in a statement.

The next meeting of the FCRA will be on Dec. 17, 2015, at Chaffee Crossing headquarters.