Downtown Fort Smith group, Chaffee Crossing to partner on ideas to improve the region

by Aric Mitchell ([email protected]) 258 views 

Their relationship hasn’t always been one of cooperation, but that tension appears to be subsiding between the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority (FCRA) and the Fort Smith Central Business Improvement District (CBID).

FCRA Executive Director Ivy Owen publicly declared his intent to become partners with the CBID for downtown improvement at an awards ceremony Tuesday night (June 28) from the Arkansas River Valley Nature Center at Chaffee Crossing. (The ceremony was in honor of FCRA being selected for the second time in five years as recipients of the Association of Defense Communities’ Base Redevelopment Excellence Award.)

Of his discussions with CBID member Richard Griffin, Owen said talks between the two groups were “just starting” and that “six months from now, there will probably be an announcement of some kind.”

“We decided that Chaffee Crossing and Downtown Fort Smith are partners, and we’re going to become partners that can be noticed in the community,” Owen said. “Richard and I talked (Tuesday) morning and afternoon, and we’re going to come up with some ideas. We’re going to try to make east Fort Smith and downtown one. We’re going to become one community working together to make everything better for everybody.”

Following Tuesday’s event, Talk Business & Politics spoke with Griffin to get his take, and while he shared Owen’s reluctance to hit on specifics, he did express excitement at the opportunity while offering a few details.

“I think there are probably some entities in some of the areas downtown – in the general area, not just Garrison (Avenue) but to the north between Riverfront Drive and the Historic District – there’s a whole Renaissance area there that can go one way or the other,” Griffin said. “It’s been neglected, and it has all kinds of potential. And I think there are entities there that are doing well, but if they relocated in an area that fit them, we might have some things to talk about because this (Chaffee Crossing) is a great place to fit them. Then we could put some (Renaissance) areas to good use that would be more appropriate for downtown.”

Griffin elaborated, saying that “everything north of E Street all the way to the River – that’s manufacturing/mixed use, but it was (used as) just manufacturing for many, many years, and that kind of declined as things moved along. So we’ve got a lot of things we can do together to complement both areas, and the discussions are beginning to start.”

Griffin’s comments are cryptic without an overview of the specific areas he is discussing. A detailed high resolution map of the area can be viewed here. While Griffin mentioned no business by name, the city and CBID leaders have been jockeying to relocate the Union Pacific-owned maintenance yard since before 2014.

Previously, Griffin had joined with a group of businessmen expressing concern over a third high school at Chaffee Crossing. The belief was that development there could hurt the urban core of the city and any chance at development in the more than 100-year-old section of town.

Griffin and other developers with downtown interests have in the past also been critical of the city for making deals with developers and businesses looking to go in at Chaffee Crossing while not pursuing similar deals regarding downtown development.

Owen has always considered himself a supporter of the downtown area, he said at a meeting in 2014, commiserating with Griffin while asserting that development at Chaffee Crossing has not been at the expense of the CBID.

“If I were a property owner downtown trying to get my property developed, I would probably feel the same way,” Owen commented in a 2014 report from Talk Business & Politics. “Not so much it’s a detriment, but maybe Chaffee has an upper hand in attraction of these businesses. I’ve been trying to neutralize that feeling for a long time now because we’re not competing with downtown or the older parts of town. Businesses come here because they want to be here. We have not recruited, as far as I know … to my knowledge, we have not recruited any business away from downtown Fort Smith that would have otherwise located down there.”

CBID will convene at the Area Agency on Aging building Thursday at 9:30 a.m. for its regularly scheduled meeting. Owen confirmed he would be in attendance.