Partners Decide to Become Chaffee Crossing Entrepreneurs
As a favor to a friend, Scott Archer agreed to look at property at Chaffee Crossing offered for sale by the FCRA, he recalled. “I have a friend who was in a Leadership Fort Smith class with Lorie Robertson, the marketing director. I hesitantly went out there just to be nice and go look at the buildings. I really didn’t expect to find anything.”
To his surprise, Archer was intrigued by a sturdy military warehouse, complete with a loading dock. It was enormous – 45,000 square feet – and was comprised, structurally, of five separate buildings separated by fire walls, each about 9,000 square feet.
He found himself discussing it with his professional colleagues at HSA Engineering, where he is principal engineer. HSA is a mechanical, electrical & plumbing (MEP) engineering firm with extensive experience in the design and construction of healthcare, educational, athletic, church, commercial, municipal and industrial facilities. The firm has offices in Fort Smith near Central Mall and in Conway, Ark. The Fort Smith office, substantial in size, was considering expanding its space for staff and technology for its work, “primarily the generation of paper,” Archer said in his dry sense of humor. “We made kind of a joke that we’d set up folding tables and use the warehouse as our office.”
Joking aside, more serious consideration led him and several business partners to a decision to purchase and develop the long, spacious strucures located in Chaffee Crossing’s former Fort Chaffee warehouse district. Their plans are for a mix of other, smaller professional offices, retail space and a restaurant. Or two.
Several factors he thought were in favor of the project persuaded him to take it on, Archer enumerated: first, the warehouse could be renovated to house the engineering firm more comfortably, doubling its current space. Second, he saw pent-up demand because of the geography of Fort Smith and towns to the east.
“I think the dynamic that people are missing is that they’re cut off out that way. Those people out there, I think some 1,600 new residents, all the people in Greenwood, Lavaca, Paris, Charleston – if they want to come to Fort Smith they have to go all the way down Rogers Avenue. You’re cut off out there, by the airport; you have to drive around it,” he explained. “ I think the dynamic is you have all those people out there – and all they need is a reason to stay right there. Chaffee Crossing will be within a skip of where they live.”
Archer and his wife, Stacey, live in the Rye Hill area. He drew on his own family’s active lifestyle and high “kids mileage” when analyzing whether the warehouse was a viable location for stores and restaurants.
“With the college starting, softball fields opening eventually, you’ll end up having people out there all the time for practice and games and weekend tournaments. There are new soccer fields and possibly, tennis courts. Where are all those people going to eat? The first place they can stop at on the way home,” he said from personal experience. “When you do activities like that you don’t want to go home and cook.”
The partners also plan to bring in the non-profit Morgan Nick Foundation, which has decided to have a Fort Smith presence. With that headquarters, HSA Engineering and smaller professional space, retail, services and eateries as tenants, Archer sees a well-appointed, even needed, commercial area. A furniture store and Fort Smith Brewing are nearby in other, adjacent warehouses now, he noted.
“We’d like it to be a place where people park and walk around to the different businesses,” he said. The exterior will be bricked and the loading dock will stay as a walkway. The completed building will be efficiently updated with new interior construction (that’s what engineers do). But its ambiance will be a cool, industrial vibe.
“At first, we felt like moving on our office was fine but anything else was roughly five years away,” he said. “I don’t think that anymore. It’s reaching critical mass, the people who believe this is happening. It’s the place to be in Fort Smith and that’s what we as partners decided.”
This article appears in the September 2017 issue of Entertainment Fort Smith Magazine.