Fort Smith Board opposes effort to sell Chaffee Crossing golf course

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 1,235 views 

The question of whether Deer Trails Golf Course in Chaffee Crossing will remain a golf course or be sold to be developed is once again a hot topic and a source of friction between the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority and the city of Fort Smith.

Rod Blake with Rod Blake Construction of Fort Smith addressed the Fort Smith Board of Directors during a citizens forum at the board’s study session Tuesday (May 9), asking if they could intervene on behalf of those in the area wanting to see the golf course remain for years to come.

“I was the first one out there (to Chaffee Crossing) in 1998. Our company was asked to move out there. I’ve seen it from the beginning. I’ve seen the whole thing from the beginning of the development. It’s pretty much gone in a different direction these days it seems like,” Blake said.

He said between his private holdings and through partnerships, he owns more than 400 acres in Chaffee Crossing in eastern Fort Smith. Included in that is the former hospital property that burned in 2011, which he bought for $1.5 million, cleaned up, got abated and completely cleared.

“In that same issue with buying it, we were guaranteed by (then Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority (FCRA) executive director) Ivy Owen, that the golf course would stay a golf course. That’s why we got second right of refusal (for the golf course property) attached to our purchase contract. Deer Trails has first right of refusal. We wanted to make sure it stayed a golf course,” Blake said.

Those rights of refusal expire March 31, 2024, Blake said. And now the golf course is being marketed for sale, he said.

LEASE HISTORY
The 119-acre golf course, located on Custer Avenue with a boundary at Roberts Boulevard is shown as a community attraction property for sale on the property for sale section of the FCRA website.

Daniel Mann, FCRA director and CEO, said Thursday (May 11) the property is for sale but it is not being actively marketed. Mann receives a 2% commission on all FCRA property sales in addition to his base salary of $124,610.

“In the original lease agreement with Deer Trails, it said the property would be listed for sale,” Mann said.

FCRA first leased the 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, Owen said it was a necessity to lease the facility and get it off FCRA’s books. He said the lease agreement removed the monetary liability from FCRA while keeping the amenity on-site and available to residents.

Mann said Deer Trails is now in its second 5-year lease and FCRA and Deer Trails are negotiating for an additional year extension to that lease, which would extend the lease to March 31, 2025. That would then extend the first-right of refusal to the same date.

OFFER REFUSED
Blake noted that he and/or he and his partners own 150 acres surrounding the golf course.

“We are wanting to develop those properties, and there are multiple developers who have approached us. One of them is actually a private group wanting to develop an indoor sports complex out there. But everybody needs assurances of what’s going to happen with this golf course, lenders, developers, us. We’ve been approached in multiple different directions, especially since the Air Force announcement. We’ve got to have some kind of relief on this to find out what is going to happen to this large piece of ground,” Blake said.

He said he and others were assured in two separate FCRA board meetings that the property was not for sale, would not be sold, and would stay a golf course.

“Now it’s being marketed. We know of two different offers made on it. It boils down to a vested interest in marketing every inch of the property out there nowadays where it wasn’t that way before,” Blake said.

Blake, Steve Beam, Justin Green and Mike Moore, under RSMJ, LLC, made an offer to purchase Deer Trail Golf Course for $9,000 per acre last year. The FCRA board of directors rejected the offer. Mann said that and a previous offer from the same group of men under a different LLC, both made in 2022, were the only two offers for purchase that have been made on the golf course.

DEED RESTRICTION REQUEST
At the time the second offer was rejected in 2022, Fort Smith Attorney John Alford, on behalf of the prospective buyers, said they were willing to agree to extend the lease to the golf course for a minimum of seven years.

“This would allow the property to be operated as a golf course and control how the property will be used if the golf course closes,” Alford said.

The group wanted to make a residential development of the course in the event the golf course closes. At the time, the group said they were hoping to rezone surrounding property, which is zoned industrial, and develop it as a residential subdivision. They were wanting assurances the golf course could never be made into an industrial development.

“If you do not approve this offer, we are asking that you permanently deed restrict it as a golf course now and assure it will remain a golf course or greenspace,” Alford said.

The board did not address deeding the property as a golf course at the time. Mann said the first offer to buy the property did not come with a stipulation about leasing it to Deer Trails to keep it a golf course. That offer was also rejected. The golf course property is in a planned zoning district designated for recreational use.

“I have said it before, this course is an amenity to the people who live here and to those in Fianna Hills, since that course closed. One hundred to 150 people play here a day. It needs to stay a golf course,” FCRA Trustee Janie Glover said at the time the purchase offer was rejected.

JOINT MEETING OFFER
The Fort Smith Board of Directors agreed to ask for a joint meeting between themselves and the FCRA board in the near future to discuss the golf course and what can be done to keep it a golf course. Director George Catsavis asked City Administrator Carl Geffken to see if it would be possible to instruct the city attorney to file an injunction to stop FCRA from selling the golf course. Geffken said he would ask and get back to the board.

Director Lavon Morton reminded the board that the city has zoning control over the property and as long the board did not act in a way that is arbitrary and capricious, they could control what becomes of the property that way. Catsavis asked if the city was under contract to supply water out to the property.

“Say someone bought the golf course, would we have to serve, give them water?” he asked.

Geffken said the city would not have to provide water.

Mann said the FCRA and the board of directors wants the best deal for all involved, including Deer Trails and the City of Fort Smith.

“We will look for the best use of this property for all our beneficiaries,” Mann said.

COURSE HISTORY
David Shepherd, a member of the Deer Trails Country Club board, who leases the land as a golf course, said in June 2022 that the course was originally Royal & Ancient Deer Rails Country Club and Golf Links, created by the military in the late 1940s.

“It features historically significant stonework, reputedly constructed by POWs. It has been in continuous operations serving the military and community at large for going on 75 years,” noted a memo to the FCRA board.

Shepherd said the golf 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.

“That’s 25,000 a year annually who use this facility. There are only two public courses in Fort Smith, Ben Geren and this one,” Shepherd said, noting the course has saved the FCRA board more than $2 million since the Deer Trails Country Club board took over the lease of the course eight years ago. The course employs nine people. The restaurant employees between seven to 12.