Growth momentum in Chaffee Crossing, Fort Smith’s premier economic development project on former Fort Chaffee military land, is literally tangible. The development experienced significant growth in 2021, reaching a projected $2.3 billion in capital investments and topping $5 million in record-breaking real estate sales. Guided by the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority’s (FCRA) Future Land Use development plan that strategically intertwines walkable, park-like neighborhoods with business and industry, outdoor recreation, education and entertainment, this area of Fort Smith is having a significant economic impact on the entire western Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma region. Current employment by Chaffee Crossing businesses exceeds 3,000. Perhaps one of the most welcomed infusions into the regional economy is the real estate tax generated on property sold for the first time since 1941 – $22 million has been added to the tax rolls since 2011. With 42 residential neighborhoods and counting, that number is expected to continue to rise significantly given the strong demand for residential development over the past year.
Fort Smith is known as a manufacturing stronghold, and Chaffee Crossing has its fair share of international companies that continue to invest and expand production, including Mars Petcare, Graphic Packaging International, Umarex, Walther Arms USA and Glatfelter. Mars Petcare is in the middle of a $262 million expansion. ArcBest invested $40 million in a new corporate headquarters in 2015. Last year, Harmon Arkansas Properties announced a $40 million warehouse project on 30 acres along the I-49 corridor that passes through the heart of Chaffee Crossing. ARDOT has plans to break ground for the 13.5-mile connecting section between Barling and Alma later this fall. This new section will connect I-40, I-49 and US 71 highways. FCRA still owns approximately 1,000 acres of the original 7,000-acre BRAC conveyance along this interstate corridor and works steadily toward sales that benefit the community and the region.
The Chaffee Crossing Historic District is a mixed-use area that includes approximately 50 WWII-era buildings. Revitalization efforts by FCRA and private investors include an Entertainment District with a microbrewery and winery and commercial, retail, event and residential spaces. The Barracks at Chaffee is a $30 million project to convert 21 former Army barrack buildings into restaurants, microbreweries and retail spaces with apartments and Airbnb units above. Anchoring the historic district are the Chaffee Barbershop Museum, the Museum of Chaffee History and the Chaffee Crossing Veterans Memorial. A monthly farmers and artisans market attracts thousands of people to this area, supporting small businesses and the art community. Two more Entertainment Districts are located within Chaffee Crossing at The HUB at Providence and The Village at Heritage – mixed-use developments that include commercial, retail, restaurant and residential spaces.
At the nucleus of this community is the Arkansas Colleges of Health Education (ACHE), a 500-acre campus home to the Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine and the Arkansas College of Health Sciences, as well as a world-class medical research facility. In 2021, Mercy-Fort Smith opened a $23 million state-of-the-art rehabilitation hospital on the ACHE campus. The facility is a key improvement for regional access to rehabilitative healthcare. It also provides top-level educational opportunities for ACHE PT and OT students.
Complementing residential development and assisting with regional talent attraction is the reputation of the Chaffee Crossing lifestyle, one centered around outdoor activities. Amenities include approximately 40 miles of biking and multi-use trails built, under construction or planned, the Janet Huckabee Arkansas River Valley Nature Center, Deer Trails Golf Course, soccer fields, pickleball courts, recreational lakes and the McClure Amphitheater.