Chaffee board approves donation for Fort Smith chamber campaign, Mayor asks board to ‘reconsider amount’

by Aric Mitchell ( 473 views 

The Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority (FCRA) voted to approve a $10,000 donation to the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce economic development campaign fund on Thursday (Aug. 17) at the group’s regular monthly meeting.

The meeting followed a budget review committee session on Monday (Aug. 14), which weighed a $100,000 ask from campaign representative and real estate developer Rodney Ghan at the July meeting. FCRA had committed $50,000 to a prior campaign in 2010, dispersed over four annual payouts of $12,500.

Ghan, citing the benefits Chaffee Crossing has seen from city economic development packages, felt the increased funding was in order; but at Monday’s meeting, the FCRA Board lowered the amount to $10,000 for a one-year commitment, citing in part falling revenues due to a depletion of land inventory. Land sales are the trust’s primary form of revenue, and there are about 1,700 marketable acres remaining from the initial 7,000 that established FCRA in 1997 as a result of 1995’s federal Base Realignment and Closures (BRAC) program.

The Board also cited continued financial commitments of around $5.7 million, which include $1.5 million for new trails and $2 million for the Highway 255 relocation project to directly benefit the city of Fort Smith. Fort Smith Mayor Sandy Sanders was in attendance Thursday and asked the Board to reconsider prior to voting.

“I can’t think of any area in the city that’s benefitted more from the vhamber’s investment than FCRA properties,” Sanders said, acknowledging that while the trust had made land available, most economic recruitment packages today “require a financial incentive” to be competitive in addition to land.

Sanders cited Glatfelter, Graphic Packaging, Mars Petcare, and a number of other recruiting successes as examples of Chaffee Crossing benefitting from Chamber efforts.

“I understand what the intent of the motion is, and am glad you’re considering that but companies and organizations throughout town have made substantial investments in the economic fund over the years, not knowing if it would pay off.” Sanders continued: “The FCRA has benefitted very directly from the financial support and incentives that the vhamber has provided.”

FCRA Board member Don Keesee noted the reduction was not meant to be taken as a slight toward the Chamber and the idea was the FCRA consider annual contributions moving forward with consideration to approve the current $10,000 and vote to renew next August based on the FCRA’s financial position. Fellow FCRA Board member Paul McCollum agreed.

“The Chamber has been very beneficial to Chaffee Crossing, but at this time, we’re starting to wind down, and we felt like the $10,000 was a strong commitment. And it’s not that it’s going to be a one-year deal. We would like to think we’d be able to give for whatever the duration of Chaffee Crossing is. But to be prudent, we needed to kind of give ourselves an out,” McCollum explained.

FCRA Executive Director Ivy Owen also reaffirmed the Board’s commitment to the chamber as well as its contributions to Chaffee’s development.

The Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce announced its $2 million fundraising goal in October 2016 to help fund job recruitment and retention efforts in the larger metro area.

Sam Sicard, president and CEO of First National Bank of Fort Smith and then-chairman of the Chamber’s Board of Directors, told Talk Business & Politics in a previous interview the fundraising goal was targeted for “the next few years,” but he hoped to get commitments pledged by the end of 2017.

In a statement announcing the campaign, the chamber said previous capital campaigns have helped bring to the region “over 100 economic development projects resulting in 5,000 new jobs and $680 million in capital investments.” First National Bank and Oklahoma City-based OG&E were cited as early “pacesetter” companies in the campaign. As of the October announcement, approximately $400,000 had been pledged toward the goal.