Borrower, Lender Travails Visit Chambers Bank Family

by George Waldon  on Monday, Oct. 27, 2008 12:00 am  

(To see the total equity in Chambers Bancshares Inc. as well as its major shareholders, click here.)

Johnny Chambers sounds weary, a feeling no doubt shared by other Arkansas banking executives battling through tough times.

"Banking used to be fun," said Chambers, CEO of Chambers Bancshares Inc. "You could help people and help them build things, and everyone made money. Now, you're just wanting to see if you can get out of some of these traps you're in."

Northwest Arkansas is home to a fair share of can't-miss real estate projects that morphed into lending traps for Chambers and other bankers. Adding to the strain of working through troubled loans is dealing with the financial fallout on the borrowing side.

Members of the Chambers family are contending with lawsuits, foreclosures and bankruptcy actions in connection with delinquent loans and failed real estate projects in northwest Arkansas and elsewhere.

Two of Chambers' daughters, their husbands and a nephew are engaged in courtroom fights over financially stressed developments.

Sons-in-law Brandon Barber, CEO of The Barber Group, and Seth Kaffka are on the firing line in connection with several projects, most notably the Legacy Building in downtown Fayetteville.

Foreclosure actions in connection with projects launched by The Barber Group, where Kaffka is president, are at $25 million and climbing this year.

Barber's and Kaffka's wives, Keri Chambers Barber and Laura Chambers Kaffka, also are part of the embattled condominium project, which moved into bankruptcy court to stave off a foreclosure sale.

John Russell Meeks, Chambers' nephew and loan officer at Chambers Bank of North Arkansas, is ensnared in a $2.7 million foreclosure suit along with Brandon Barber, Seth Kaffka and others on a 40-acre project in Johnson (Washington County).

How is his extended family faring during these travails?

"I'll let them speak for themselves," Chambers said from his headquarters at Danville (Yell County). "Anybody in real estate up there is dealing with some problems. Some are much worse than others."



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