Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority (FCRA) Executive Director Ivy Owen is “well on his way to recovery” after an extended illness, according to FCRA Chairman Dean Gibson.
Gibson told Talk Business & Politics after a meeting on Thursday (June 21) that Owen, who has been out since April, spoke to him earlier in the day and expressed he would for certain be back for the July 19 meeting. But Owen’s return likely will be before that, Gibson said.
“He’ll be back full-fledged. We just don’t have a definite time. I talked to him today, and I think he’s online to be back well before the next meeting.”
As for succession planning, Gibson said the trust hasn’t looked at it “at this point, but we have some plans to talk about that, not because we don’t think Ivy’s coming back, but just because we think that that’s the prudent thing to do.”
Gibson continued: “This got brought to our attention with Ivy’s extended leave that maybe we need to be at least discussing with him what his plans are. We do that every year. When we extend his contract and do his performance evaluation, we talk to him about that, and he understands that. But he loves his job. He does a great job here. And we just want to do what’s right for him and do what’s right for the organization. So, I think we’ll be doing some discussions with that in the next month or two.”
Since Owen started in 2008 the role once held by Fort Smith Mayor Sandy Sanders, he has overseen a boom in economic development for the Chaffee Crossing district on the east side of Fort Smith. Over the last decade, the area has attracted more than $1.5 billion in public-private investments. When 1995’s Base Realignment and Closures (BRAC) process deeded 7,000 acres of former farmlands to the trust, it had an estimated appraisal value of $2,500 per acre or $17.5 million altogether.
It has since won major developments like the ArcBest headquarters, residential and commercial developments from ERC Holdings, and, most recently, the Arkansas Colleges of Health Education (ACHE). With the investments, values have increased significantly to the point that, according to Sebastian County Assessor Zach Johnson, assessed lands in the Chaffee Crossing boundaries from 2011-2017 had a tax value of $6.916 million. That figure is 20% of the land value, which would estimate growth from the aforementioned $17.5 million (for everything) to around $34.5 million just for the land FCRA placed back on tax rolls.
The trust has unloaded around 4,400 acres of the original 7,000. The number left varies from month-to-month, but as an estimate, FCRA still has around 1,500 acres of marketable land remaining and more than 800 acres of unmarketable “wetlands.”
Also Thursday, the FCRA board passed a motion to not entertain any proposed activities on the land reserved for the Fort Smith Public School (FSPS) District until January 2021 when the “free land” option runs out. Retiring FSPS Assistant Superintendent Gordon Floyd was at the meeting and told Talk Business & Politics the district has “ongoing plans and discussions” about what to do with the land, “but if you ask if I know a specific agenda item, no. But I do think that it’s all part of the community partnerships we have and trying to discuss where we’re going in the future.”
The district had once considered a third high school at the location, but recent passage of a millage increase made no mention of it. However, it did set aside funding for a Career and Technology Center. Floyd said the district has yet to pinpoint a location for the facility.
Prompting the vote was a request to purchase right of first refusal on the property should the school district not move forward with any construction projects. ERC’s Rod Coleman made the request, but it died for lack of motions during a real estate review committee meeting last week.