FCRA member explains offer decline ‘has nothing to do with Memco,’ still hopes for relocation

by Aric Mitchell ([email protected]) 502 views 

The Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority’s decision to deny a second offer from Memco, Inc. “has nothing to do with Memco,” according to FCRA Secretary/Treasurer Don Keesee.

On Thursday (May 17), the FCRA Board, acting on a recommendation from its real estate review committee, declined Memco’s $175,000-second attempt to acquire property for construction of a 27,000 square-foot warehouse/office space. The deal also asked the FCRA to carry utility expenses of around $130,000. Memco already has a Fort Smith site at 5601 Old Greenwood Road.

Following the meeting, Keesee, who made the motion to deny on Wednesday (May 16), explained the decision was about “the right use for that piece of property.”

“It just doesn’t fit,” Keesee told Talk Business & Politics, adding he didn’t “want anybody to get the connotation we don’t want them. We would love to have them. But I don’t know why they want that property.” Keesee emphasized the area’s industrial land use identification no longer applies. The Board agreed, vowing on Thursday to revisit the land use map at June’s real estate review committee meeting.

The land in question is five acres located along Roberts Boulevard close to Graphic Packaging. While Wednesday’s committee motion did not give a formal reason, the objections centered on use and pricing. Keesee referred to the Arkansas Department of Transportation’s study exploring toll viability for the I-49 bridge as a consideration as well.

Considering where it would sit in relation to the freeway and a future I-49 bridge, “C” stores like Pilot Travel Center “would walk in here and not even hesitate to offer $100,000 an acre for that property,” Keesee said.

“We’re closer than we’ve ever been to the bridge becoming reality just because we have a governor now who loves this area. We’ve got a congressman and a Senator that love this area. They’re really giving the toll a serious look. Now whether it happens or not, we don’t know. By October, we should have a good idea about the feelings on a toll. But that’s why you don’t just give (the land) away. It’s sitting right on that freeway. Its value will explode. But if in October, they come say no, and we don’t see any funding for the next 10-15 years, then we’ve got decisions to make.”

Keesee emphasized the FCRA has a commitment to taxpayers as well as Sebastian County, the cities of Fort Smith and Barling — participating entities — and existing area landowners to get as much as they can for the remaining property.

If selling too low, “We hurt the value of adjoining property owners or other property owners who’ve already bought.” The property Memco wishes to purchase — “if you sit and look at the offer of even $35,000 (per acre) and then you look up on Wells Lake Road, which is residential primarily, and has been selling for $20,000-$28,000 an acre, there’s no comparison. That piece of property is so much more valuable than residential property just because of where it sits.”

“We’ve got to, as far as the taxpayers and everybody else, get the most feasible amount,” Keesee said, not to “be greedy,” but to grow the value of the area and continue to attract investment.

The proposed Memco facility also would run up to the Arkansas Colleges of Health Education (ACHE), which, Keesee said, was “another one of my concerns.”

“They (the college) are going to be building residential and multi-purpose and all that coming up from behind us. Is it going to help them when they’re sitting there looking at warehouses? It just doesn’t fit.”

That said, Bob Cooper, the trust’s land sales agent, is hoping to relocate Memco to another location in the district. Memco hasn’t closed the door on Chaffee Crossing either. But when asked about the next move, Larry McGriff, vice-president of operations for the company, told Talk Business & Politics it was “to be determined.”