Sale approved of River Valley Sports Complex property, consent decree hearing set

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 2,279 views 

After months of discussion and two votes, the Fort Smith Board of Directors voted to sell the city-owned property that is the former River Valley Sports Complex. At its regular meeting Tuesday (Jan. 21) directors voted four to three for a resolution to sell 68.15 acres of property at Chaffee Crossing formerly designated for the controversial and defunct River Valley Sports Complex project for $210,273 to XFED Commercial Properties.

The same board voted four to three against the sale at the Dec. 17 regular board meeting. At that time, the majority of the directors were against selling the property for significantly less than the $640,000 the property was appraised at in 2019. When directors discussed the sale of the property in December, Director Lavon Morton (Ward 3) and Director Andre Good (Ward 2) wanted a “clawback” provision in the sale that would keep the buyers from being able to immediately sell the property for a profit.

“Discussion we had a last meeting for a clawback provision has been included (in the sale). If the buyer doesn’t make significant improvements and sells the property for more than $400,000 within three years, then the city will receive 50% of the sale amount over $400,000,” said Deputy City Administrator Jeff Dingman.

During discussion of the sale, Morton said the clawback provision included does not accomplish what it needs to accomplish.

“This transaction is exceedingly complex to actually try to appraise. I have spent a considerable amount of time studying the appraisals,” Morton said. “It is not in the best interest of citizens of Fort Smith to sell something appraised at $640,000 for $210,000.”

Good did not agree and joined with Directors Keith Lau, Robyn Dawson and Kevin Settle to approve the resolution approving the sale of the property. Directors Neal Martin, George Catsavis and Morton voted against the resolution.

More than 30 acres of the property is in the 100 and 500-year flood plain, according to City Administrator Carl Geffken said. Steve Beam and Rod Blake with XFED are planning to develop the property into a motocross facility, Dawson told the board in December.

Former Sen. Jake Files, R-Fort Smith, and Fort Smith businessman Lee Webb partnered to build the RVSC in 2012, and in 2014 they convinced the city of Fort Smith to invest $1.6 million into the project. The project was to be a tournament-quality softball complex with eight softball fields, two concession stands and associated parking. Acting on the advice of Geffken, the Fort Smith Board nixed the sports complex plan effective Jan. 31, 2017, after more than two years of delays on the project. In 2017, several lawsuits were filed by the city and subcontractors over the unfinished RVSC, and the FBI investigated Files for possible wire fraud and money laundering related to use of about $27,000 in state General Improvement Fund grant money for the sports complex. The city spent $1.8 million on the project and incurred about $100,000 to $200,000 in legal fees associated with the project.

An RFP was posted in 2018, seeking a contractor or developer to step in and finish the sports complex or do something similar, but only one proposal was submitted, Geffken said.

“That proposal did not meet our needs, so we put the property up for sale,” Geffken said.

The board also on Tuesday approved a resolution authorizing the mayor to execute a $551,250 contract with United Turf and Track for the artificial turf improvements at the Kelley Park fields. This amount comes in $51,250 more than originally anticipated.

At the Dec. 17 meeting, the board approved adding $250,000 to the parks department budget in the the 2020 budget to project to install artificial turf playing surfaces at the city’s Kelley Park ballfields as part of a public-private partnership intended to improve the use of the Kelley Park ballfields for tournament play. The city had been approached with an offer for a private/public partnership that would replace some of the grass infields at the Kelley Park baseball fields (the Church League fields) with artificial turf in order to expand the field’s use and attract tourism. Sam T. Sicard, president and CEO of First National Bank, and Bobby Aldridge, principal engineer with Frontier Engineering, presented a plan to the board that would have private donors contributing $250,000 to match city funds of $250,000 that would allow for the artificial turf replacement on four fields at the park.

Proceeds from the $210,273 sale of the Chaffee Crossing property, will be able to be put toward the cost of the project, Geffken said.

“That makes us just needing $90,000 for the project, instead of the $250,000 we already approved,” Martin said.

Geffken also said the city would go to the private sector donating $250,000 for the project and ask if they would contribute 50% of the extra $51,000 so the project would be an equal private/public project.

Also at Tuesday’s meeting, Geffken announced that Paul Calamita with AquaLaw out of Richmond, Va., will be at the board study session Jan. 28. Calamita, who regularly works with cities and utilities concerning consent decrees, has been working with the city for the past couple of years concerning its federal consent decree, Dingman said.

After years of failing to maintain water and sewer infrastructure to federal standards, the city entered into a federal consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice and Environmental Protection Agency in late 2014. The consent decree requires the city to make an estimated $480 million worth of sewer upgrades over the course of 12 years. Funding for consent decree work has come in part from water and sewer bill increases, which are up 167% since 2015. Funding for water and sewer work also comes from bonds supported by sales tax revenue and revenue from wholesale water buyers.

According to the firm’s website, Calamita has “national experience advising businesses and local governments in all major facets of the Clean and Safe Drinking Water Act and environmental compliance.”

Along with environmental compliance advice, he helps clients negotiate permits, orders, decrees, and other environmental and utility-related agreements. Because of the complexity of the consent decree and the public interest, Director Settle asked that nothing else be on the agenda for the study session.