The Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority Board of Trustees on Tuesday (July 12) approved a controversial contract to sell a parking lot on Ellis Street in the Fort Chaffee Historic District that includes a stipulation that the parking lot be run as free public parking.
The board approved an offer by Loyd Sumpter with Rival Commercial RE to purchase the parking lot on Ellis Street for $90,000 at its June 16 meeting but required Sumpter return for contract approval and that the contract include a stipulation that the lot remain public parking.
The contract approved Tuesday states that the property “conveyed to the buyer, and all heirs and assigns of buyer, shall only be used as a free parking lot accessible to the public. This covenant is intended to and shall be a covenant running with the land and shall be listed as a restriction on use in the deed of conveyance.”
Sumpter said he needs use of the parking lot for access to construction work on buildings he owns adjacent to the lot. After construction is completed, he will redesign the parking lot per code, including landscaping, lighting and handicap parking spaces.
“The intent is to keep it free public parking,” he said. “People ask why we want to own a parking lot for public use. My buildings will pay for the maintenance of the lot. Long term, we all need parking. Long term, the city doesn’t want the lot, so we are going to have to something, and someone is going to have to take ownership of them. If they are by my buildings, I’m assuming that risk and buying the lots by them.”
In June, the board also accepted an offer to sell a parking lot at Ward Avenue and Fort Chaffee Boulevard with the same stipulation as the other parking lot. Daniel Mann, FCRA Executive Director and CEO, said Tuesday that Sumpter had rescinded that offer. He said he believed FCRA was going to have to come to some understanding about who will own the parking lot at some point.
“I think we’re going to have to come up with a resolution on who is going to own it. The city doesn’t want it. FCRA is eventually going to go away, so if the other business owners have interest in it, it needs to be decided. … Something needs to be done with it. We need to come up with a plan,” Mann said.
He told the board Tuesday that following the June meeting, he had met with Quentin Willard, owner of Fort Smith Brewing Co. who said he was interested in purchasing the lot. Willard had expressed his concern over the sale of the parking lot at the June meeting. There also had been a post on the Fort Smith Brewing Co.’s Facebook page stating that its customers have used the parking lot for more than five years.
“When Fort Smith Brewing bought their property they were informed they could not purchase the parking lot because it would forever remain public for all the businesses in the area to use,” the post said “Fort Smith Brewing was never afforded the opportunity to buy all or some of the parking lot to secure space for customers.”
The post also raised concerns about whether the parking lot, though it remains a public lot, will charge for parking and whether the free events the brewery hosts in the parking lot, including drive-in movies, would have to stop.
“Quentin really expressed an interest to me. … He just felt like he should have the right to buy it. He said he didn’t know it was for sale, even though it is listed (by the FCRA) as for sale. So I think one of the best actions would be, if he is interested in buying it, is to let him buy it and keep it free parking and bring it to code. And my tenants across the street can use it as free public parking like other businesses around my businesses are going to do with my parking lot” Sumpter said.
Willard emailed the board June 16, before the meeting, with a proposal to buy two buildings next to his building, Buildings 213 and 214 (both 9,040 square feet) and the parking lot for $110,000. Mann said in June Willard had not made an official offer to purchase the lot. Nothing was said Tuesday on whether any formal offer had been offered on the lot.
Sumpter has previously purchased several former barracks buildings in the historic district, which he is renovating to create mixed-use buildings with retail space on the first floor and residential apartments on the second that will be the Barracks at Chaffee Crossing. He said he has already purchased $2 million worth of property at Chaffee and put in $1 million in capital improvements.
Following the contentious June FCRA board meeting, at which some audience members were asked to leave for being disruptive, there was a Fort Smith Police Department off-duty police officer present at the meeting Tuesday. Lorie Robertson, FCRA director of marketing, sent a request to Lt. Steve Creek, with patrol special operations for FSPD, a request on June 27, stating that FCRA would like to hire an off-duty officer to present and provide a calming presence at the July 12, Aug. 11 and Aug. 18 meetings. According to Aric Mitchell, FSPD information officer, the fee for an off-duty officer is $30 an hour, with a four-hour minimum.