Fort Smith area homebuilders working to meet demand from foreign pilot training center

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 1,791 views 

A Justin Green home

Now that Fort Smith will be home to the U.S. Air Force’s foreign pilot training center, hundreds of apartments and homes will be needed to house those coming to the city to staff the operation. Area builders and developers say the housing will be available.

It was announced Wednesday (March 15) that U.S. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall signed the final “record of decision” to place the unique operation at Ebbing Air National Guard Base located adjacent to the Fort Smith Regional Airport. The mission is expected to initially bring more than 500 military personnel and an estimated 300 “dependent families” to the city during the next two years.

“If they were to come in today, we’d probably have enough, but it would be a stretch,” said Fort Smith developer Rod Coleman. “But we have a year, I think they said. If that’s the case, we’ll be ready.”

The earliest planes and pilots from foreign nations could arrive at Ebbing would be in late 2024, which is part of the military’s fiscal year 2025 that begins in September 2024, according to Lt. Col. Drew “Gus” Nash. The full complement of 12 F-16s and 24 F-35s from various nations could arrive in fiscal year 2026 at the earliest, he said. Nash expects pilots and F-35 planes from Poland will be the first to arrive.

Coleman said there are about 500 units in the works at Chaffee Crossing, noting that means anywhere from in the planning stages to “sticks in the ground.”

“And Chaffee isn’t the only place. There are some units under construction across from the (Ebbing) base behind Southside High School and some other places,” he said.

Justin Green, owner of Justin Green Custom Homes, said he and many other builders are making a push in order to have homes ready for those coming to Fort Smith as part of the new mission.

“There is not a lot on the ground right now. Things are still selling fast,” Green said. “I sold three houses in Shire Glen in the last 30 days.”

Green said there are many multi-family units being built as well as duplexes and single-family homes for rentals and home ownership. He said duplexes being built include a 48-unit apartment complex he is building with Rocky Walker with Cobblestone Homes, president of the Greater Fort Smith Association of Home Builders, on Chad Colley Boulevard and Massard Road, and 20 to 25 1,400 to 1,500-square-feet rental homes being built in other areas.

“There’s a good mix. There are subdivisions for people who want to buy, rental homes, duplexes and multi-family units,” Green said. “Tim Mays has a subdivision going in on Veterans with probably 40 or so lots. Rocky and I have another 55-60 lots in Shire Glen for those who want to buy. ERC has houses going in. … In the next six months, we’re going to start on 38 units single-family housing like the Valley at Stoneshire (a secluded neighborhood featuring cottage-style homes) and, possibly, 55-60 Chicago style row houses.”

Row houses are single-family homes that are built side by side and share a common wall and often a common look.

Mays with Tim Mays Homebuilder Inc. said all builders in the area are working as fast as possible to get homes ready for whoever comes.

“I know I have 35 lots in the ground, only three of those are sold. Every builder is doing everything they can. We are doing our best to serve the needs of those who are here and those who will be coming into our area,” Mays said. “I know the homebuilders association is behind this, and it will be a great thing for our area. We just want to make sure they have roofs over their heads when they get here.”

The hurdle builders face is a lack of knowledge about those coming to Fort Smith because of the pilot training center. What will be the income bracket of those coming? Will they be first-time homeowners? Will they be renting? Will they be rotating through and here only a few months or will they make Fort Smith a more permanent home? The answers, according to Steve Robberson with Robberson Custom Homes, are much fewer.

“I honestly don’t know. I know what I’m doing. I keep hearing there are tons of rental properties going up. It would help if I knew a little more,” he said.