Norris Group owner renews plan to redevelop former Fianna Hills Country Club

by Michael Tilley ([email protected]) 3,453 views 

The Fianna Hills Country Club saga takes yet another turn in a more than 10-year uncertain history for the iconic Fort Smith facility. The latest has club owner Brooks Norris again planning to renovate and re-open the clubhouse.

Fort Smith-based Norris Group bought the former club building and 12 acres for $1.1 million in April 2023 with plans to open a social club and apartments, create space for commercial development and build a “55-plus active lifestyle center.” At the time, Norris said the investment would be significant but said they were still in the design and idea phase and did not have a total on the renovation and development costs.

Norris confirmed with Talk Business & Politics on Monday (June 24) that he is not selling the property to developer Sam Seeger and plans to announce within the next three months “a great new direction with details to come” on bringing in a new operator for the club’s restaurant, bar and meeting space. Norris also said the plans will include “multifamily development” with a focus on “active lifestyle” amenities.

“I want it to be a work here, play here, live here type of atmosphere,” Norris said.

Norris said his initial efforts to develop the property were delayed when his son, Cayden, was diagnosed with stage 4 testicular cancer. Cayden, now 18, is cancer-free, according to Norris.

“As Brooks mentioned, he was occupied most of the year taking care of his son, Cayden Norris, who was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. Both Brooks and Tara stepped away from their careers to focus on their son’s health,” noted a statement from Norris Group Chief Operations Officer Kelly Clark. “The Norris Group has always been enthusiastic about revitalizing the former country club. Recently, we have been in contact with a restaurant owner who operates multiple locations and has shown interest in this site. We are excited about the potential for this collaboration and would be happy to keep you posted as we get closer to a full commitment.”

David Millé was the former owner of Fianna Hills Country Club. He closed the club and golf course on Dec. 31, 2018. At the time, the club had around 50 full- and part-time employees and around 250 members.

On-again and off-again efforts by a group of local investors to buy the country club and golf course fell through in September 2020. Millé noted at the time that he tried to make the club work, and “for many years” operated “on a negative basis” despite having “one of the best restaurants in the surrounding area, a world-class chef, and an excellent menu.”

“However, many of the people posting a desire for the Club to re-open were, for the most part, never members and never darkened the doors of Fianna Hills Country Club. If only 25% of the 1800 neighborhood property owners had participated with a social membership, the Club House and Golf Course would still be open today,” Millé said.

Seeger, with Van Buren-based WCR Development, announced in early March plans to invest up to $40 million to build an “upscale, high-end” active lifestyle community around the former golf clubhouse. He said the facility would resemble Grand Village at Clear Creek, a retirement facility in Fayetteville.

The facility, between 130,000 and 135,000 square feet, would be built on 13 acres adjacent to and including the former clubhouse. It would have about 90 units in two structures, with the existing clubhouse structure used to house most of the primary amenities, such as dining areas, lounge and entertainment areas, a theater, hair salon, and a gaming area.

Seeger also planned to include 14 “independent cottages” next to the former clubhouse, with project completion likely 18-24 months after construction begins. Seeger said his company conducted a market study and was, at the time, convinced the Fort Smith region would support the concept.

The Fort Smith Board of Directors on April 2 approved an ordinance amending the Master Land Use Plan and zoning change that will allow for Seeger’s development concept.

However, Norris said Seeger failed to secure a deal to buy the property.

Lance Beaty, president and CEO of Beaty Capital Group, which owns and manages TempleLive in downtown Fort Smith and several other former Masonic Temples around the country, said in 2013 he was interested in redeveloping the club and environs.

He proposed in 2014 a $20 million development of the club and course that included the addition of guest suites for members and their guests, a medical concierge service and other upgraded amenities. The country club would also have been gutted and rebuilt on its original footprint, expanding from its current 27,000 square feet to 85,000 square feet.

Beaty eventually dropped the plan, saying the business viability became too tough.

Beaty has a history of redeveloping former properties. In addition to the Masonic Temples, Beaty and partner Dr. Steve Nelson of Fort Smith purchased the 35-acre and almost abandoned Phoenix Village Mall at 4600 Towson Ave. in January 2009. Once an eyesore, the Fort Smith property now includes a Shared Services Center for the medical sector, a call center operated by Tampa, Fla.-based Sykes, and a Mercy Fort Smith clinic.