Future of Deer Trails golf course, residential development remains uncertain

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 874 views 

The Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority Board of Trustees tabled further discussion of Deer Trails Golf Course for another month in order to give all parties another chance to negotiate a suitable contract.

Daniel Mann, FCRA director and CEO, told the board at its regular meeting Thursday (June 15) that he and FCRA attorney Dalton Person were in negotiations with the Deer Trails Country Club board to negotiate an extension of the lease. FCRA was offering a one-year extension with a few other provisions. The Deer Trails board told the FCRA board that one-year is not a long enough extension.

“We’d like to continue. If you want the same five year, and another five year option. We’d like 10 years with a 10 year option. But one year is not acceptable to us,” said Randy Shock, a member of the Deer Trails board.

Shock said they put every bit of profit the golf course makes back into the property as improvements. Shock said Deer Trails board presented a letter of intent to the FCRA in December asking the FCRA to 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 non profit and continue to operate the course at no cost to anyone. Letters of support from Fort Smith 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.

The Fort Smith Board of Directors unanimously passed a resolution May 16 requesting FCRA donate the property that has operated as many years as Deer Trails Golf Course to the city of Fort Smith. Members of the FCRA board have said they are hesitant to do that because though the Fort Smith resolution states they intend to keep it a golf course, there is no guarantee that it can be kept a golf course.

“This is a very good amenity for us. It’s a good selling point for housing. I don’t think we should consider selling it. We’ve got a good thing here for the people wanting to purchase our homes,” said FCRA Trustee Janie Glover.

The FCRA Board, the city of Fort Smith Board of Directors, the Deer Trail Country Club Board of Directors and developers who have spoken out on the subject all agree that the golf course needs to continue to be a golf course, but all the parties have not agreed on how to accomplish that. Fort Smith contractor and developer Rod Blake told the board Thursday that they cannot develop property they have on two sides of the golf course as residential housing developments until something permanent is set for the golf course.

“We have two of our major lenders who are telling us the golf course question needs to be decided. We can’t get a loan to develop (the housing subdivision) unless we know that the golf course will stay and not become industrial warehouses or something,” Blake said. “We want to switch to residential but not knowing what is going to happen to the golf course, we’d be stupid to put in residential.”

Blake noted that with Daniel Mann having a contractual 2% incentive to sell property in the FCRA there is speculation that land use of the golf course could change in order to get it sold.

“Why are you (the FCRA) trying to hold on to the property? The lease has a clause that it can be taken from (the Deer Trails Country Club) with 60 days notice. That isn’t very reassuring,” Blake said.

Mann receives a 2% commission on all FCRA property sales in addition to his base salary of $124,610.

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, 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. Shock said the course continues to run in the black.he said they have 170 members and there about 25,00 to 27,00 rounds of golf played at the course annually.

“That doesn’t count the traffic to the restaurant,” he said.

The course has served as a golf course for about 75 years.

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. Deer Trails has first right of refusal regarding an accepted offer on the course through March 31, 2024. If the lease is extended, the first-right of refusal would extend to the same date.

FCRA board members told Mann and Person to work on negotiations with Deer Trails for a longer lease term in hopes that an agreement could be reached. The topic of working with Deer Trails on an offer for them to take ownership of the property was broached.

“The golf course will be there for a long time, more than what redevelopment will continue. We’re not sure how much further into the future we will be here. Wouldn’t it behoove us for them to make us some sort of offer to take the property over and get it out of our inventory?” said FCRA Trustee David Damron.

No direction on negotiating that was given to Mann and Person.