River Valley Sports Complex still ‘in limbo,’ could cost at least $6 million

by Aric Mitchell (aric.mitchell@gmail.com) 1,249 views 

The River Valley Sports Complex continues to be “in limbo” following the Board’s decision earlier this year to sever ties with organizers Jake Files and Lee Webb.

Acting on the recommendation of Fort Smith City Administrator Carl Geffken, the Board of Directors nixed the plan effective Jan. 31 after more than two years of delays on the project, which was expected to cost the city just $1.6 million for the construction of eight tournament-quality softball fields, two concession stands, and associated parking.

Files, an outgoing state senator from Fort Smith who has decided to not run for reelection, and Webb, a Fort Smith businessman and chair of the Arkansas Economic Development Council (AEDC), had planned to use private construction and in-kind donations to finish out the rest of the project. They billed the city for completed work, utilizing $1.08 million of the $1.6 million commitment by the time the city ended the relationship. Since that time, Dingman told Talk Business & Politics, the city has spent an estimated $30,000 for erosion control, seeding, and security cameras.

Dingman said Morrison Shipley Engineers are conducting a site evaluation to determine “what it will take to finish the park.”

“Once that happens and we have an idea of what the requirement is to get it finished, we can go about the task of trying to figure out how to get that done. It’s hard to answer the question when you don’t know what the question is. For the time being, it’s still sitting there,” Dingman said, adding the parks and streets departments have “spent a lot of time out there over the course of the last few months” to protect the site.

Dingman did not know when Morrison Shipley would have their recommendations ready. Fort Smith Internal Auditor Tracey Shockley also continues to evaluation the efforts that have been expended on the project, including “trying to determine who owes what and that sort of thing,” Dingman said, referring to potential unpaid contractors from before the city took over the project. One in particular – Brian Busby of B&A Electric – previously reported $156,000 in unpaid invoices. Dingman did not know the status on outstanding claims.

The city has disputed Files and Webb’s position that it is responsible for honoring those contracts, which were created prior to termination of the agreement. While the uncertainty also makes it difficult to determine a final cost, Dingman “guaranteed” Talk Business & Politics it would cost “considerably more” than the remaining $500,000 from the city’s initial commitment.

“In order to finish the project out, to have ballfields that are viable to play on, it’s going to cost considerably more than $500,000. We knew this going in,” Dingman said. “The two fields the city built at Ben Geren with the little concession stand was $1.5 million rounded. Now we’re talking this project with eight fields and two large structures and all the parking associated with it. It’s going to cost more, and that’s what we’re waiting to find out.”

While Dingman did not give a ballpark on Wednesday (July 12), he told Talk Business & Politics in March that simply extending the Ben Geren costs, the project could run at least $6 million by its completion.