Ivy Owen, former head of Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority, has died

by Michael Tilley ([email protected]) 1,739 views 

(right) Ivy Owen, executive director of the Fort Smith Redevelopment Authority, poses July 25, 2017, holding the 2017 John Lynch Redevelopment Leadership Award with Mike Preston, executive director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission.

Ivy Owen, who served as the face and often evangelical voice of the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority (FCRA) for many years, died in the early morning hours Friday (June 5) at the age of 73.

“I don’t have the words right now dad. But I can say I love you so very much and I miss you so much already. This is so very hard. You were my idol. I watched everything you did while I was growing up. I always wanted to be as good a salesman as you were. It came natural for you and you never met a stranger. Loved by many and liked by more,” Steve Owen posted on his father’s Facebook page Friday morning.

Owen was born July 1, 1946, in Memphis and grew up in Holly Springs, Miss. He and his wife of 43 years, Barbara, had two sons, Mike and Steve.

“I loved that man,” said Rod Coleman with ERC Holdings, which worked with Owen on many projects at Chaffee Crossing over the years. “He was a man who had a desire to be successful. He was just a great guy. He did a lot for Fort Smith.”

Having been in the economic and community development industry for more than 50 years, Owen has served in multiple prominent positions. He was hired by the FCRA board in December 2007. Under his leadership, the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority 1995 Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) economic development project received multiple national, state, and regional awards, and reached more than $1.651 Billion in projected capital investments (based on property sold through the end of 2018), according to a media release.

Former Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority Executive Director Ivy Owen

“Ivy came in at a time when we needed someone with his experience and background and he helped FCRA move forward. He did a very good job of economic development … and locating developers and businesses,” said former Fort Smith Mayor Sandy Sanders.

Before Owen was hired by FCRA in 2007, he had served as director of development for the City of Memphis; director of economic and community development at City of Holly Springs; community development director at Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians; director of sales at Lakefront Limited Real Estate, according to his Facebook page.

Owen took the reins of FCRA in 2008, taking the role once held by Sanders. He oversaw the majority of Chaffee Crossing’s development. Under Owen’s tenure, Chaffee Crossing welcomed the Arkansas Colleges of Health Education (ACHE), which opened its inaugural college, the Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine (ARCOM), to a class of 150 students in July 2017. It began construction of a second college, the Arkansas College of Health Sciences (ARCHS), in 2018.

During his tenure, FCRA sold about 5,000 acres to developers, which comes to $1.65 billion in projected capital investment based on property sold through the end of 2018, according to FRCA.

“(Owen) worked with us at every junction from the wonderful gift of 200 acres of land to all the mixed use buildings we had to have. He and Lorie (Robertson, FCRA marketing director) worked with us to get the first ever planned zoning development (PZD) the city (Fort Smith) ever passed. I can’t say enough good things about him. I have a lot of respect for him,” said ACHE CEO Kyle Parker.

The FCRA board of directors chose not to renew Owen’s contract in February 2019, due to his health issues not allowing him to fulfill his duties. Owen later filed a wrongful termination claim, which was settled out of court through mediation in August 2019. At the time, Owen said he had planned to retire at the end of 2019.

“With heavy hearts, Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority wishes to express deepest condolences to the family of Ivy Owen. Ivy was the number one fan of Chaffee Crossing. No one believed in its potential more than him. He proudly told its success story everywhere he went. His contributions that helped bring this economic development project to life will always be appreciated. May he rest in peace,” said a statement released by FCRA Friday.

Owen was recognized many time with awards from the Association of Defense Communities, Leadership Fort Smith and the University of Central Arkansas Community Development Institute. He received a citation from the Arkansas House of Representatives for “his vision, leadership and experience in economic and community development.”

“I’m saddened to learn of the passing of Ivy Owen. He was a visionary whose dedication to and passion for developing Chaffee Crossing has left a lasting legacy. I’ve been to many groundbreakings at Chaffee Crossing and they were made possible by Ivy’s drive to help the community reach its potential. He was a tireless advocate for Fort Smith who will be missed,” said U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark.

He was a man who would never admit that something couldn’t be done, Coleman said, noting that when working with Owen, he never hit the walls that are common when working as a developer.

“With Ivy, there was never a wall. Sometimes, there may be a slowdown, but that was all,” Coleman said.

Owen was also a mentor. Robertson, who worked with Owen for many years at FCRA after he hired her as the FCRA marketing director, said Owen changed her view of the world and taught her there are things “we can always do to make life better for everyone around us.”

“My heart breaks for his family. Ivy was a great mentor and friend. He gave me the opportunity of a lifetime, and I will never forget that or take it for granted,” Robertson said.

Funeral arrangements are pending.