And now for something completely different: Coleman’s vision of The Hub about to rise
Chaffee Crossing is growing up, in every sense of the word. Its earliest neighborhoods have been “home” to many for almost a decade and its careful intention to create a mix of residential, commercial, industrial and recreational activities has come true.
At every step since the former military base became a new part of the cities of Fort Smith and Barling, developer Rod Coleman, through his ERC companies, has helped shape its future. ERC is the largest residential property developer in Chaffee Crossing.
Now, Coleman’s single most forward-thinking idea is about to become real. The Hub, located at the significant intersection of RA Young Drive and Wells Lake Road, has its concept in its name – a center.
An urban lifestyle
Imagine a greenscaped plaza at its heart, surrounded by three-story townhouses and apartment homes on the floor above upscale stores. In the plaza is an inviting restaurant with large windows overlooking it.
It will be a neighborhood unlike any other in Fort Smith.
What it will be is a style of living that is current and desired in larger cities all over. The Hub will offer a coveted, convenient urban lifestyle.
Kathy Coleman, Rod’s wife, easily pictures herself at one of those pleasant tables relaxing with their friends, having strolled over with her husband from their Hub townhouse. Perhaps they would be meeting friends who live in a traditional home in the nearby, gated Providence neighborhood.
She embraces the idea of living as a mature couple, whether still working or retired, in a spacious home but with a low-maintenance lifestyle, within steps of shopping, dining and a pleasant walking trail.
“Couples our age, who are downsizing, tell me they think it will be cool to live near other empty nesters,” said Kathy. “I look forward to it.”
Building on the cutting edge
The Hub, where dirt work is under way, likely will be the first of its kind in Fort Smith. Why take the leap to do something so new??Because it is the way of the future, Rod Coleman believes.
“On the corners, there are two buildings that have commercial and office tenants on the bottom and apartments on the top,”?he said, pointing to the site plans. “In the middle is a restaurant with 2,500 square feet beside it, same size, that is an outdoor terrace with trees and lights. It’s shared space.”
Around that center, “We’re building 23 attached townhouses, from 1,500 to 2,600 square feet. With elevators,” he emphasized. “We’re going for a single person or couple with no kids – maybe like Kathy and I – because we now have the ride to go all three stories without having to walk up the stairs.”
Voices from the future
All property developers have to listen avidly to all kinds of people, as a requirement of their profession, to try to predict what future users of their projects will want – where and how they will seek to live. They also travel to observe trends in other cities and pay attention to the ideas of prominent “futurists,” the reputable theorists, in addition to other city planning experts.
Twenty years ago, the idea of a community growing up at what had been federally held, military land miles east of Fort Smith proper sounded “out there,”?Coleman pointed out. ERC took a risk to get into the then-unusual concept of Chaffee Crossing. The company started earliest with traditional residential development.
“People are still stuck on that 75-by-150 lot, with the picket fence, a dog, three kids, a bicycle,” he said, “and that is not a bad thing,”?he added, with emphasis. The Colemans’ daughter, Elizabeth Voris, and her physician husband are an example. A traditional home with many bedrooms and a large yard is exactly the lifestyle they preferred. Dr. Justin Voris also chose to build his medical practice for the Chaffee Crossing area, on Massard Road. They live in one of the first neighborhoods ERC created, Elizabeth said. “Plus, I step out of my door onto our trails system, which we love.”
The future-thinking master planning of the Fort Chaffee Regional Authority paid off in the creation of the walking/biking trail system. Today, residents of all the neighborhoods of Chaffee Crossing can now, or will soon, walk or pedal to its beautiful River Valley Nature Center, a golf course, ball fields, a hillside amphitheater, Ben Geren Regional Park and throughout the forested area with more than one beautiful lake and city park. ERC and all its fellow developers saw the future and bought into that planning.
Now, he’s listening to the lifestyle preferred by the 300 medical students at the young Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine, Coleman explained.
“We’re interviewing them, we’re listening to what they say,”?he said.
What these future doctors and other local young adult professionals describe definitely includes the lifestyle of The Hub, he said.
“What I am finding in interviewing kids at the med school – some of them are coming from bigger cities and they tell us a lot – we ask them about things like prices from our (potential) retail tenants,”?he explained. “We ask, would you pay $6 for a latte? The answer is yes – but within a certain kind of atmosphere.”
“The Hub is going to create three things they want: to live, work and play. There’s a huge common area down the middle for all these people to share, whether they live inside it or are shoppers. The new trail is coming right to it. You’ll be able to walk on the trail, over to the school and connect to the city trail system,”?he described. “You would hope people would sit out on their balconies and decks – it’s community, community, community that everyone wants.”
The Arkansas Colleges of Health Education, parent of the medical school, recently broke ground its own Heritage Village, a complex of commerce and living. Both will be what the municipal Fort Smith planners define as “Planned Zoning Districts”?with guidelines about how they are designed.
Seeing the vision completed
“Within the next five years”?is when Coleman foresees a full maturity of Chaffee Crossing, with regard to future ERC projects. “The Hub is kind of the last project we foresaw in the beginning,” he said. (On nearby Wells Lake Road, there will be a 30-acre neighborhood of homes in an ERC development built at the same time.)
His fellow developers are building out some of their last major endeavors, as well, he said. Teamed with the cities and FCRA, Chaffee Crossing will fully be a part of Fort Smith, but will keep a distinctive identity.
Partly, that will be because of risk-taking and innovative development. Coleman said he has visited but not yet lived in a place like The Hub will be. “But, I am betting that it will light a spark,”?he said.
This article appears in the September 2018 issue of Entertainment Fort Smith Magazine.