Health college president says school is ‘getting ready to make announcements’

by Aric Mitchell (aric.mitchell@gmail.com) 1,104 views 

Arkansas Colleges of Health Education (ACHE) President and CEO Kyle Parker hinted the newly opened medical colleges were on the verge of announcing new developments on the Barling side of its 228 acres at a Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority (FCRA) meeting on Thursday (Sept. 21).

While Parker was not ready to share specifics, he said the medical colleges were “getting ready to announce some things over at Barling, and so safety and security means a lot, because we anticipate retail being over there, restaurants, and what-not.”

Parker’s purpose for being at the meeting was to ask the FCRA to consider conveying a small plot of land on Chad Colley Blvd. to the school so that it could maintain future lighting and landscaping needs. ACHE is already in the process of adding four street lights to the parcel, which contains a median with rights-of-way on both the Barling and Fort Smith sides. While permission to move forward on the over-$30,000 project has already been granted by the respective cities, Parker said his real concern was “the future.”

“The land really has no value. You can’t really sell it. Nobody can build on it. It has a right-of-way easement through it. Our intent is to try to make the public not see the difference that they’ve left Fort Smith and gone into Barling, and that this is one continuous look at the 228 acres of land,” Parker said, adding there may come a day when the university “can’t put a bush in the ground or anything without going to the cities of Fort Smith and Barling to do so.”

The FCRA did not reach a final decision on land conveyance Thursday, but did refer the request back to the real estate review committee for its October meeting after having opted to make no recommendations at last week’s meeting.

Since winning approval from Fort Smith and Barling city governments for a planned zoning development (PZD), ACHE has anticipated retail and hospitality tenants in the acreage to accommodate faculty, student body, and residents throughout the two communities. A previous economic forecast anticipated the college would produce $26 million in taxable revenue annually from the retail and hospitality sectors, but with the Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine’s (ARCOM) first class arriving less than two months ago, PZD commercial announcements are still shrouded in mystery.

Parker gave Talk Business & Politics hints in a June 27 interview, stating the school had been contacted “by every conceivable retail thing you can imagine,” but he opted not to elaborate because “we’ve just got to make sure we do it right.”

“We have a town architect — Mike Watkins, one of the gentlemen who helped develop Seaside, Florida,” which is an unincorporated master-planned community on the Florida panhandle founded in 1981 and featured prominently in the Jim Carrey film The Truman Show. “We’re going to make sure that we get the right mix,” Parker said, explaining ACHE had hired two separate consultants to handle residential housing.

The school has plans for more than 1,900 units in low-, mid-, and high-end housing along with a second college and PZD. It also hired author and New Urbanism expert Robert Gibbs for help in coordinating the development with surrounding communities.

“He’s the one who has come back and said, ‘Okay, you can have x amount of grocery stores, you can have x amount of movie theaters. So, like a grocery store, you can have one or two, your choice; but if you choose two, then it affects a different area. It was all done for the economic impact and what Fort Smith, Barling, Alma, Van Buren — what we can handle as far as retail is concerned,” Parker said.

Also Thursday, the FCRA opted to exercise its repurchase clause for $285,000 on 15 acres of undeveloped land at the corner of Highways 59 and 22. The board had previously granted Chaffee Crossing Development Group (CCDG) five extensions on the land which it had anticipated using as commercial space. CCDG was asking for another three-year extension, but board members voted unanimously to reject.

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