The Authority: FCRA staff's job is to know everyone at Chaffee Crossing
This is the hub and these are two folks who interact with all people who live, work, invest in or even ask about Fort Smith’s Chaffee Crossing. The very job description of Ivy Owen, executive director of the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority and Lorie Robertson, its director of marketing, along with its able staff, is to “know almost everybody.”
The FCRA is the entity charged with administering the conversion of 7,000 acres that were once part of the military base, Fort Chaffee, to civilian use and ownership after the U.S. Department of Defense, by a congressionally authorized process called Base Realignment and Closure, ceased use of this land. The FCRA is also duty-bound to someday put itself out of business. When all of that acreage is fully and officially privately owned or publicly administrated by a municipal government, the authority’s job will be completed.
Ivy Owen has an insightful, first-hand perspective of the multi-faceted, massive regional effects resulting from the birth and evolution of Chaffee Crossing. There’s a good case that he could retire and write a notable non-fiction book about these unique circumstances. Such a book would be informative and relevant to urban planners, state and national elected officials, federal and state civil service agency professionals, the U.S. military command, economic developers, sociologists, political science academics, real estate developers, the investor and financial sector, historians, journalists and a myriad of affected citizens. It’s a big, wide and deep subject that has consumed him since taking this job in 2007.
That is, if he ever were to retire. It’s a standard and amusing question to ask Owen when he will retire – and he always answers in good humor.
“I used to say my work would be done when I drove on I-49, but now I can’t say that any more,” he said. “Then I said when I see the medical school opened but as of now that’s already passed. My next benchmark is when the dirt starts turning on the 13 miles that gets us over to I-49 at Alma.” (I-49 is meant to take this route, when federally funded.) “The only reason I’m excited, well, several reasons actually! One is because our governor has taken it on as a pet project. The second reason is that the way they’re examining it now is as public/private project. The state has already committed to $10 million dollars,” he said, his face now alight.
His answer is typical. Owen seems biologically hard-wired to transmit enthusiasm, to motivate engagement and investment in or at the very least, a positive attitude towards Chaffee Crossing. His numerous professional accomplishments, accolades; his occasional regulational combat manuevers on behalf of the FCRA and complex, creative, long-range campaigns are better followed in business and news publications.
But he’s a “people person,” so he did understand and respond very thoughtfully to this magazine’s current purpose – to look at the social, human culture developing as Chaffee Crossing fills with people. He thinks a lot about that culture, he said, as one chief in shaping it. “I think it is a culture of hope and excitement,” he said. “Hope, that what people feel and see when they drive on Chaffee Crossing is what the future of Fort Smith holds; excitement that they’re fortunate enough to be part of it. But especially hope.”
“I can see it in their eyes and hear it in their voices. We hear it in the FCRA board meetings when people are here making an emotional plea to our board to sell them property; sharing their vision for what it’s going to look like and how successful it’s going to be. When they get that way, it’s catching! Every time we have one of those emotional pleas and excited orators it catches on. It’s amazing what a positive attitude can do,” he declared in his animated manner.
“It’s hard not to have a positive attitude when you drive around here and see all the new construction, the med school, ArcBest, young people walking and riding bicycles, babies in strollers, people going to the Nature Center, building houses, moving in, eating at the restaurant, it’s just hard not to get excited about it, no matter what your age. Especially for the young people,” he continued, pausing to take a breath.
“I think the culture will predominately will be made by new people and new businesses. The reason I say that is because the shifting that would have happened has already happened. People who already live or own businesses in Fort Smith were going to move when it was inexpensive,” he reasoned. “Those people, like Trotter Electric, have moved out here years ago. There’s people who moved their homes when The Woods addition was opened 10 years ago. People who lived farther east moved to get closer to Fort Smith. There’s a lot of people there who didn’t live in Fort Smith before. I bet 60 percent of those who live in Reata weren’t from here. The further you get up the hill, I bet it is as high as 60 percent new residents,” he said.
Lorie Robertson, who meets prospective property buyers, such as Scott Archer’s warehouse partners, sees a culture of pioneers.
“This is Fort Smith’s new frontier. Fort Smith was founded on the western edge of the city, looking off into Oklahoma and it was uncharted territory. The people who came here and built and developed were pioneers,” she said. “People who are investing in this land today are pioneers. They’re looking for something new and different, yet they love this city and want to stay here close. This is their new frontier. This is where they get to branch out and explore and try new things and not be so constricted by all the other confines of a developed city.”
Ivy sees the McClure Amphitheater as symbolic of new alliances and a cooperative culture Chaffee Crossing offers. Dick Gordon, he recalled, first took him up a foot trail to the abandoned military amphitheater on an overgrown ridge. By cooperating with the city and Sebastian County governments, the stone amphitheater is now attractively restored. It immediately became a popular destination and amenity to the many new residents around Massard Road. From it is a new vista with a beautiful view back towards miles of Fort Smith.
This article appears in the September 2017 issue of Entertainment Fort Smith Magazine.