After almost exactly one year on the job as executive director of the Fort Chaffee Regional Development Authority, Daniel Mann has a practiced eye for scanning the ever-changing, color-coded map marking the remaining, marketable parcels of this former military base.
Few parcels remain unsold, but Mann sees past the map’s property lines to concepts greater than today’s mere monetary value, such as road and highway widenings, synergies between businesses and residents and quality of life amenities as simple as a pickleball court or a dog park.
Working with his staff under the guidance of a board of trustees, Mann implements the FCRA’s responsibility: to be the best stewards in redeveloping this enormous asset the government has released back to the cities, county and state surrounding it. The values it must return from the conversion of 7,000-plus acres will be counted in more than money. It takes a long-term vision, with the trustees and staff constantly responding to short-term factors to reach long-term success.
“We have repurchased property at strategic locations where projects didn’t happen,” Mann explained about their redevelopment process. All of the revenue obtained from sales must be reinvested into making the whole more salable and perpetually self-sustaining; to grant sales that yield “not a large, but a fair return” in value, he said. This land, owned by all the public, must be used in ways that pay back to the taxpayers in jobs created, in public use such as recreation and to the public’s benefit, such as when the FCRA helped the Arkansas Colleges of Health Education to locate at Chaffee Crossing.
Some projects take a long time to mature, such as the River Valley Community Church’s patient campaign to build a church home at Wells Lake Road and McClure Drive. Mann has been present at a lot of ceremonial dirt turnings. This may be the first time he has seen a shovel with scripture printed on it, Ephesians 3:20-21. It was a joyful day last month.
The church had begun by renting an Army building on Taylor Avenue. Now, it may be a church home for the hundreds of new residents who built homes or live in several dozen new Chaffee Crossing subdivisions.
At the center of it all, Mann enjoys observing the imagination, ambition and ingenuity of developers with dreams. A lot of that is found in the areas of Chaffee Crossing where owners and commercial developers convert historic structures into new purposes, he said, pointing out an ongoing project at Ward and Ellis streets.
Rival Commercial Real Estate, led by developer Lloyd Sumpter, has already revived a single-story property with tenants Prime Time Barbershop and Seiter Design Co., a screen-printing and graphic design company. Adjacent to it, Rival CRE is renovating a second building for a restaurant tenant. The project is already built to purpose, with code-compliant kitchen equipment and a pleasant outdoor deck. Further, Sumpter plans to be the first developer to convert classic barracks, the iconic two-story wooden frame structures still standing in rank in the historic district of Chaffee Crossing. His plans would create the first residences in that area. These projects come with particular lead abatement and other code requirements; Sumpter can handle that.
“I want to create living opportunities for young professionals and give them what they like,” Sumpter said. His vision is of facing barracks buildings with a courtyard in between, with 600-square-foot apartments over retail and flexible office space. He has plans for amenities such as electric vehicle charging stations on his communal parking lot.
Sumpter also would like to see the parking lot become a gathering space for 10K runs, fundraising parties or even an outdoor market. He’s excited to add to an already attractive neighborhood that offers a brewery, a wine cellar, retail stores and offices.
Entrepreneurs like those in the historic district create youthful and forward-looking businesses, create jobs and also can serve the many home-owning residents of Chaffee Crossing. Building starts for new homes are strong and, so far, mostly unaffected by 2020’s pandemic disruptions, Mann said.
ERC’s upscale residental and commercial development The Hub is filling rapidly with residents and businesses, Mann noted. The “live, work, shop, play” balance of Chaffee Crossing has been growing successfully.
The FCRA’s work continues in fitting together many elements – dreams, jobs, homes, routes and recreation to result in lasting value.