Despite a national pandemic, the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority ended 2020 in a solid financial situation with a new year off to a good start, according to Daniel Mann, FCRA executive director and CEO.
“2020 was a relatively good year considering the pandemic and gaps in the supply chain, some supplies we just could not get,” Mann said, adding that the redevelopment authority had $2.5 million in sales in 2020, which was under budget but “still a good year.”
It also invested in three major capital improvement projects and fulfilled its $1 million obligation as matching funds to the state for Arkansas Highway 255. FCRA, Barling and Fort Smith entered into a multi-party agreement with Arkansas Department of Transportation (ARDOT) for the Arkansas Highway 255 Relocation project in 2017, Mann said. As part of that agreement, FCRA had to commit $2 million towards the construction of this project — $1 million paid in 2020 and another $1 million to be paid at the end of construction.
Along with the $1 million to ARDOT, FCRA spent $500,000 in capital improvement to complete Phase 1 of the Chaffee Crossing trails and repurchased three properties, which should result in increased future resale value for FCRA, Mann said.
“We had some property sold that the owners have not been able to develop. Their situation has changed. Buying that property back allows us to focus on it again and to focus on it being developed,” Mann said. “We did that with some property last year, and we are looking at some other property we might need to do that with in 2021.”
The authority ended 2020 with $15 million in current assets and no long-term debt.
“We are prepared to meet our long-term financial and capital improvement obligations so that taxpayers are not left with a burden when our public trust sunsets,” Mann said.
The capital improvements, repurchase of land and the payment to ARDOT left the operating fund down about $750,000, Mann said. But those expenditures were a sound investment, he added.
“We would not be able to generate more action in the historic area without that investment,” Mann said.
FCRA has invested more than $1.2 million in the Chaffee Crossing Historic Area since 2017. FCRA had 177 acres in property sales for the year, which is projected to result in $61 million in capital investments and 84 new jobs.
Some of the bigger announcements in 2020 included the relocation of the Arvest Equipment Finance headquarters to Chaffee Crossing, beginning construction of the Mercy Rehabilitation Hospital, opening the second education building on the Arkansas College of Health Education (ACHE) campus, and 18 groundbreakings, ribbon cuttings and construction kickoffs. There was $1.8 million in property sales put under contract in 2020 with closing dates in 2021, moving FCRA close to its $2.5 million budgeted revenue for 2021, Mann said.
“We should go over that (budgeted revenue) this year,” he said.
Since January 2000, more than $1.847 billion in projected capital investments have been made with public and private dollars at Chaffee Crossing, the FCRA annual report states.
“That is a 5% increase over prior year projections. We collect this information from developers throughout the year based on property use. Most people don’t realize that outside of state and federal projects, these investments are funded by local developers, local builders, local subcontractors, local banks and others who create local jobs which means local dollars are repeatedly turning over in our community,” Mann said.
The investments generated more than $3.6 million in property taxes in 2020, a 17.7% increase over 2019, the report states. All in all, property sold through FCRA has generated more than $17.9 million in real estate taxes. Direct net new jobs in Chaffee Crossing have reached 2,637. In addition, FCRA projects nearly 3,800 jobs associated with the investments plus enrollment of 1,000 medical students by 2026 with the ACHE.
Chaffee Crossing now has 38 residential neighborhoods with an estimated 3,237 units planned. About 55% of those have been built or are under construction, Mann said.
“There is good room for more rooftops,” he said.
Several contracts are pending for new neighborhoods in Chaffee Crossing along with new phases of existing developments plus the first apartments in the Fort Chaffee Historic Area. There are still 1,723 acres available for sale in the Chaffee Crossing area, which includes a significant amount of land for industrial use and 446 acres for parks greenspace.
“There is a lot of exciting stuff coming and a lot of interest still in Chaffee Crossing, which helps us justify our value to investors,” Mann said.
When those 1,700 acres are sold and developed, FCRA and its executive director and CEO will no longer be needed, but Mann said he knew the deal when he took the job.
“It makes for some hard decisions, but I have always known. There is still a large amount of work to do and we are working closely with developers to see what all Chaffee Crossing can be,” Mann said. “It’s exciting.”