KFSM-TV, Channel 5, based in Fort Smith for 65 years, is building a new office in Northwest Arkansas.
Van Comer, the station’s longtime general manager, confirmed Wednesday (Feb. 14) to Talk Business & Politics the station has signed a long-term lease for a build-to-suit project in Johnson, just east of Interstate 49. Comer said the building will be approximately 23,000 square feet and he is hopeful to begin construction in April.
The four-acre site is owned by Checkk Properties LLC of Texarkana, and is situated on South 48th St. just north of Inn at the Mill.
“We think we can be in a position to move into the new building about this time next year,” Comer said. “It’s an aggressive, but worthy, goal.”
The region’s CBS affiliate since 1980, KFSM signed on in 1953 as the first TV station licensed to Fort Smith. It serves western Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma. The station was initially KFSA-TV but changed its call letters to KFSM in 1973. The Johnson building will replace KFSM’s existing Fayetteville studio, situated in 6,700 square feet inside the Northwest Arkansas Mall since 1992. The station’s lease expires in the first quarter of 2019.
KFSM was the first station to open a news bureau in Northwest Arkansas in 1968, but its primary studio for originating its televised newscasts has always been Fort Smith. The studio and administrative offices are in downtown Fort Smith, in the former Carnegie Library on North 13th Street.
Comer said once the Johnson building is complete next year, the company will update and modernize the Fort Smith studios.
Comer, who acknowledged the station’s interest in growing its operations in Northwest Arkansas more than two years ago, was non-committal on whether the Johnson studio would replace Fort Smith as the station’s primary studio for originating newscasts. A handful of KFSM’s most recognizable on-air talents — anchor Daren Bobb and meteorologist Garrett Lewis, for example — live in the Fort Smith metro. Sports director Bobby Swofford lives in Fayetteville, as do Comer and several other off-air executives.
KFSM and its sister station, KXNW-TV have about 110 employees, Comer said. The new building is being designed for approximately 100 workers.
“We are going to produce [news] from both studios,” Comer explained. “There’s going to be a time to transfer more staff to Northwest Arkansas when the facility is completed, and yes there will be some commuting and back and forth. But at the end of the day, our plans are to have both locations with [primary production] capabilities. Both markets are critical to our growth, but Northwest Arkansas…we all know about the growth in this region and this expansion is a reflection of that.”
Comer stressed the station’s commitment to Fort Smith through the renovation of the existing newsroom.
“That gives us a chance to modernize and catch up to the industry,” he said. “It will increase the production value of our newscasts at both locations, and from a business perspective, they will be both be scaled to the market.”
Comer said the large-scale plan is still pending approval from the city of Johnson, and he has a preliminary meeting with city officials Friday. Kyle Naples, owner of NAPA Construction LLC will oversee the building construction. BiLD Architects PLLC is the building designer. Both firms are in Fayetteville. David Erstine with CBRE in Fayetteville handled the leasing negotiations for KFSM.
Since 2013, KFSM has been owned by New York-based media titan Tribune Broadcasting. The station was one of 19 television stations to be acquired in an all-cash deal worth $2.73 billion.
KFSM has historically been the highest-rated station in the Designated Market Area (DMA), an 11-county area that includes nine counties in Arkansas and two in Oklahoma. The market is ranked 98th out of 210 markets, with 304,670 households, according to Nielsen.
KFSM’s expansion in Northwest Arkansas is another example of its efforts to become more involved in the region. Last summer, Comer signed a marketing agreement that will, among other things, give KFSM the rights to televise the University of Arkansas football and basketball weekly coaches’ shows, beginning with the 2018-19 school year.