Chaffee Crossing Brings New Employers to Fort Smith Region

A not-so-secret weapon in Fort Smith's economic development arsenal has been Chaffee Crossing, the 7,000-acre mixed-use development at Fort Chaffee.

That's where Mitsubishi Heavy Industries recently broke ground on its $100 million wind turbine facility. It also is home to Graphic Packaging Inc., Umarex USA and Mars Petcare.

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Chaffee Crossing includes commercial, retail, residential and recreational areas in addition to the industrial space. But the demand from industrial employers has been strong enough to warrant adding another 700 acres to the original 500 acres designated for such use, said Ivy Owen, executive director of the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority.

"And we have I-49 that runs right through the middle of it with three interchanges, which makes it very attractive" to new businesses, Owen said.

The completion of I-49 will have a huge effect on Chaffee Crossing, Owen said. Within 18 months, the roadbed and all of the interchanges in Chaffee Crossing will be complete. That leaves paving the stretch of interstate, which has not been finalized yet.

"That's going to put us at the crossroads of two interstates - north, south, east, west - and you will see a mushrooming of logistical opportunities in this area from Alma to Poteau and Van Buren to Greenwood," said Fort Smith Mayor-elect Sandy Sanders. "This whole area will just explode."

Rail will be a component of transportation at Chaffee Crossing, as the FCRA will rehab several miles of track, and Mitsubishi plans to build new rail to accommodate its plant, which should be operational by the end of 2011.

The FCRA also leases a good deal of property. Most of its operating revenue comes from leases, and several existing businesses have relocated to Chaffee Crossing, Owen said.

"I'm not down there beating on doors trying to lure people away from downtown," he said. "But we're letting people know that we're open for business out here now."

Owen has developed other ways to generate revenue, including an asbestos abatement division, which he formed to clean up the aftermath of a 2008 fire that destroyed 155 buildings on the property. The estimated cost for cleanup was $4 million, but Owen and his team managed to do it for $600,000, he said.

A wetlands mitigation bank will bring in another $1 million during the next few years. When developers plan to build on top of wetlands, they must contact the Army Corps of Engineers to get what's called a 404 permit.

"If you impact a wetland, if you build over one, then you have to replace it somewhere else with equal or better wetlands than you've displaced," Owen said.

Wetland mitigation banks work somewhat like cap-and-trade. Developers purchase credits for wetlands that have been restored or maintained in other areas.

"Since we had so many wetlands, I applied to the Corps of Engineers to establish a bank here, and now we have about 250 acres of wetlands that we've got qualified for the bank," he said.