FCRA discusses option of deeding golf course to city of Fort Smith
The Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority (FCRA) Board of Directors discussed that if they were to deed Chaffee Crossing property now operated as Deer Trails Golf Course to the city of Fort Smith, they want to make certain it stays a golf course.
“I’m not in favor of ever selling the golf course. We need to keep it a golf course. There is no reason for them to build more houses (on that property),” said Janie Glover, FCRA director, at the FCRA board’s regular meeting Thursday (May 18).
FCRA Board President Dean Gibson addressed the board on the subject, although there was no agenda item to consider the Fort Smith resolution. The Fort Smith Board of Directors on Tuesday (May 16) unanimously passed a resolution requesting the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority (FCRA) donate the property that has operated as many years as Deer Trails Golf Course to the city of Fort Smith.
FCRA Director Paul McCollom asked if there was anything in the resolution binding Fort Smith to keep the golf course a golf course. FCRA attorney Dalton Person said the resolution states that the city intends to continue the use of the property as a public golf course.
“City officers can change, and that can change their intentions,” Glover said.
McCollom said the FCRA would need to “lock it up” and have it in writing that it stays a golf course and cannot be sold or leased for other use if they chose to deed over the land. Gibson said that FCRA is in negotiations to add a year to the lease of the course to Deer Trails, a non-profit organization that has leased the property for nine years. The lease is set to end on March 31, 2024.
FCRA first leased the 119-acre golf course to a non-profit in 2014 for $1 a year for five years. Prior to that FCRA operated the golf course for two years. At the time, the FCRA said it was a necessity to lease the facility and get it off FCRA’s books. The lease agreement removed the monetary liability from FCRA while keeping the amenity on-site and available to residents.
Randy Shock, a representative of Deer Trails Golf Course, said they presented a letter of intent to the FCRA in December that they should deed the course property to Deer Trails. The letter noted that if Deer Trails were not operating a golf course, it would revert back to the FCRA or the city of Fort Smith. They said they would convert to a 501C3 and continue to operate the course at no cost to anyone. Letters of support from City Administrator Carl Gefken, all the Fort Smith directors who were sitting at the time, state legislators, and a petition signed by nearly 2,000 residents were included with the letter of intent. In April, FCRA responded to the letter saying it was not really an offer.
David Shepherd, a member of the Deer Trails Country Club board, who leases the land as a golf course, said the course continues to operate in the black and at no point has depended on public funds. He also said the course sees around 9,000 players annually and 17,000 visit the restaurant a year. The course employs nine people. The restaurant employees between seven to 12.
Shock said in April that the course continues to run in the black. Shepherd said Thursday that he felt the negotiations with FCRA were going well and their lease would “probably” continue unless the property was deeded to Fort Smith. He also said Fort Smith has agreed to lease the course to them for 99 years if the property is deeded.
“I agree with Paul (McColloum) that keeping it a golf course needs to be put in writing,” Shepherd said. “There needs to be something that says it has to be done that way.”
He also said it is very positive to see FCRA, Fort Smith and others are starting to work together and talk about the golf course.
“That’s been our goal since the beginning, just to keep this a golf course.”
Gibson said the subject of the golf course is scheduled to be on the FCRA board’s agenda at the June 15 meeting.