The Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority (FCRA) will not donate Deer Trails Golf Course to the City of Fort Smith because they fear the golf course will be sold and used for other purposes. But at the same time, the FCRA will not remove Deer Trails from its list of property to be sold.
On Thursday (Sept. 21), the FCRA Board of Trustees rejected an agreement from the City of Fort Smith that would protect the future of the golf course at Chaffee crossing, even though the city added 20 years to the number of the years the course would remain a golf course because there was still concern the city would decide to turn the golf course into some form of recreational property.
The FCRA board rejected a similar agreement with the city in August. That offer would have kept the golf course as a golf course for 40 years. In August, FCRA board members said they would agree to donating the property to Fort Smith if Fort Smith would make it obvious and certain the property would remain a golf course for 50 years.
So the city’s board of directors asked City Administrator Carl Geffken to make those changes to the agreement. The city’s new proposal said the property would remain a golf course for 60 years – 10 years more than the FCRA requested.
But the FCRA board once again rejected the offer during Thursday’s meeting.
“The majority of dialogue has been that you wanted 50 years instead of 40,” said Dalton Person, FCRA attorney. “But the main concern, as I took it, was that there was the possibility of the city to convert it. In my opinion, the 60 years is a red herring.There still remains that pesky section six.”
Section six in the proposed agreement concerned discretionary consent. It states that if “owing to unforeseen or changed circumstances, public recreation activities additional to public golf course use (such as public walking trails) are deemed desirable by both Fort Smith and a majority of interested parties identified in paragraph 5 above, permission may be given for such activities. Such request for permission and permission for activities requiring consent shall be in writing and shall describe the proposed activity and affected portion of lease property.”
“If I had ironclad proof that the city would keep it a golf course for 99 years, I would agree to this,” said Board Member Paul McCollum.
But again, the property that the FCRA board demands should remain a golf course is listed as for sale by the FCRA. This has been a sticking point with the Deer Trails Country Club Board of Directors in negotiations for a new lease is that the property is listed for sale and proposed contracts have said the lease can be canceled if the property is sold.
FCRA CEO Daniel Mann said Thursday the property is still listed for sale. When asked if he would consider taking the property off the market in order to help with the negotiations with Deer Trail Country Club, he said no.
“The property has always been listed for sale. It’s going to stay that way until the FCRA board instructs us otherwise. We, the staff, take our direction from the board,” Mann said.
Deer Trails has been operating as a golf course for over 75 years. The golf course has been run with a profit for the 10 years the Deer Trail Country Club has operated it, said Randy Shock, a member of the Deer Trail Country Club board.
“We’ve never lost any money,” Shock said.
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.
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.
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.
To complicate matters, the Sebastian County Quorum Court – which also manages a public golf course – passed a resolution Sept. 19 supporting FCRA in selling Deer Trails Golf Course. The resolution states that no real estate property taxes are being assessed or collected on the Deer Trails property, and it would be most beneficial to the citizens of Sebastian County if Deer Trails was developed to “mixed use.
“Taxpayers are supporting a golf course to compete with a taxpayer supported golf course not very far away,” Sebastian County Judge Steve Hotz said, referring to Ben Geren Golf Course. “Basically the center of our concern is that we know golf courses; we’ve been running one for quite a while. They are hard to keep going. We think anyone who tries to keep going will run into obstacles and it will be unlikely they can do it for 60 years.”
The golf course is in Fort Smith city limits, and is in a planned zoning district with seven available uses, Geffken said. Those are: Outdoor amusement center; Country club; Outdoor driving range; Golf course; Miniature golf course; Sports complex or athletic fields; Park or playground.