The Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority (FCRA) Board of Trustees on Thursday (Aug. 17) rejected a an agreement with the City of Fort Smith that would protect the future of golf course at Chaffee Crossing, saying they did not have enough assurance the property would remain a golf course.
Deer Trails has been operating as a golf course for over 75 years. FCRA first leased the golf course to the non-profit Deer Trails Country Club 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.
Concern about the Deer Trails Golf Course remaining as a golf course was first raised when the FCRA listed the property for sale. 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. FCRA CEO Daniel Mann said May 11 the property is for sale but it is not being actively marketed.
The city’s concern grew when FCRA and the Deer Trails board members were unable to come to terms on a long term lease. Deer Trails is now in its second 5-year lease. FCRA had been negotiating with Deer Trails to extend the lease by one year. An offer had been made by FCRA to extend that lease for five years. Deer Trails had countered asking for a 10 year lease with the option to renew for another 10 years. Negotiations have not been completed.
Also, Fort Smith contractor and developer Rod Blake told the Fort Smith Board on June 15 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.
In the donation agreement sent to FCRA by the city, the golf course, including 119 acres, two 10-feet by 16-feet portable locker buildings, two recreation shelters, and five free-standing buildings along with related grounds and parking, would be conveyed to the Fort Smith for a minimum of 40 years.
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. Members of the FCRA board had said they were hesitant to do that because though the Fort Smith resolution states they intend to keep it a golf course, there is no guarantee it can be kept a golf course. The city thought that would be assured through the donation conveyance agreement, but the FCRA board of trustees did not agree.
“We gave the city (of Fort Smith) land once before, and it turned out to be a disaster. And when that thing fell apart, that land was sold instead of given back to the trust,” said Trustee Scott Archer. “There are people out there who are going to be pretty angry if we transfer property to them.”
However, Archer said if the board had assurances that for the next 50 years the property was going to be a golf course and no way around it, he would support the conveyance.
Fort Smith City Administrator Carl Geffken addressed the trustees and said the agreement makes certain the property will definitely remain a golf course for the next 40 years. In the agreement it states that the Deer Trails Country Club will have a 10-year lease to run the golf course with the option to renew that lease for another 10 years.
“We are not looking for anything bad to happen, but if for some reason they cannot operate it for that time, the city will find another vendor to operate the golf course. If need be, the city’s parks department will operate it as a golf course,” Geffken said, referencing the specifics laid out in the agreement. “It is the desire of the board of directors to impress upon you the desire for the sole reason of the donation is to continue operation of the golf course by Deer Trails unless they cease to operate, then by another operator or the City of Fort Smith.”
Geffken said the city had funds specifically marked for parks and would be able to care for the golf course.
FCRA Trustees raised questions during Thursday’s meeting on whether the Fort Smith Board could vote in a future meeting if and when there were new directors on the board to not fulfill the agreement and sell the property for other development.
“I think we need something more creative than what has been presented,” Archer said.
Paul McCollom, vice chairman of the board of trustees, agreed, noting that “as it stands right now, it’s protected by us.”
Geffken said he would report back to board of directors.
“I’m sure it will make no difference to them (the Fort Smith BOD), 40 or 50 years. The point is we are offering assurance for all it will stay a golf course,” he said.