There’s a lot going on in Chaffee Crossing. From world-class educational opportunities to stunning vistas, nature trails, profitable businesses and affordable, family-friendly living spaces, this economic development powerhouse in western Arkansas offers a complete range of topnotch amenities geared toward both work and recreation for people of all ages and backgrounds.
Chaffee Crossing’s origins began with Fort Chaffee, an active Army National Guard Training Center housed on 72,000 acres. The center gifted 7,000 acres to the state of Arkansas, and in turn the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority sells the property, developing commerce that creates well-paying jobs and quality of life amenities that complement the area’s residential development.
Formed in 1997, the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority is a public trust that works to ensure Chaffee Crossing reaches its full potential in property values, handling land sales, expansion, economic stewardship, natural resources and new building design to develop and maintain a high level of quality for all current and future residents. To date, more than $1.7 billion in capital investments have resulted in 17 corporate and regional headquarters, 34 residential neighborhoods, and numerous services designed to provide a vibrant and exciting region filled with opportunity and growth potential.
“This land is available to people of all demographics and income, and while we’ve been higher-end up until recently, we’re beginning to see more neighborhoods developed with affordable homes for students and young families now,” says Lorie Robertson, Director of Marketing. “We’re also working on education, commercial growth and community development as well.”
Chaffee Crossing also takes great pride in supporting its impressive medical facilities and education complexes.
“Without question our brightest shining star and greatest accomplishment in terms of development stems from a gift of 200 acres to the Arkansas Colleges of Health Education,” says Robertson. “FCRA gave that organization 200 acres of prime real estate, and they have turned that initial gift into something that no one in this region could imagine advancing as far as it has in five short years.”
Arkansas Colleges of Health Education (ACHE) was founded in 2014 to help transform healthcare education and bring in more physicians and better healthcare for western Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma. The first college, Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine, opened in 2017, with 150 osteopathic medical students on 228 acres. The total acreage has now grown to 430 acres and a second state-of-the-art facility has been built on the ACHE campus. By 2024, the two colleges will accommodate 1,050 students and approximately 150 faculty and staff.
“ACHE is grateful to the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority for the gift of 200 acres,” says Kyle Parker, CEO of ACHE. “Creating the Village at Heritage, the two phases of the Residents’ apartments, Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine (ARCOM), the Arkansas College of Health Sciences (ARCoHS), the Mercy Clinic, the recent groundbreaking of the Mercy/Kindred Rehabilitation Hospital, the future Celebration Garden and Wellness Park, and additional walking and biking trails, will make Heritage a place to learn, live, and play.”
The economic impact for the community has been tremendous, he adds, with more than $45 million invested in current construction with an independently assessed $400 million economic impact of ARCOM alone in 2021.
Parker also addresses the ongoing importance of mental health and wellness concerns related to medical education and the community as a whole.
“Medical education is stressful,” he says. “We’re excited about plans for Celebration Garden and Wellness Park. Components of the park will include a lush garden with benches for students, faculty, staff, and our community to find a place of peace and quiet. Our adult exercise area will help make the body strong, mentally and physically, and a children’s playground will feature options for inclusive fun for all children, including those in a wheelchair. Over eight miles of walking and biking trails are planned or under construction.”
Chaffee Crossing also aims to improve regional healthcare, with a goal of drawing physicians from all of Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma, attracting them with education followed by residencies in rotation as close as possible to the region, as research has proven that a great percentage of doctors stay in practice within 100 miles of where they did their residency, says Robertson.
“Western Arkansas is in dire need of particularly primary care physicians,” she says. “We hope the resident doctors will fall in love with western Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma, and want to stay here and help care for our population. This has been called the Taj Mahal of medical schools. It’s a fabulous facility.”
The idea is to use the facility as a recruiting tool for medical practitioners to set up practice and in turn help improve the health and well-being within the region, she says. Student doctors enrolled in the school are very active and visible in the community, which has embraced their presence with open arms.
It’s a huge culture shift, as Arkansas doesn’t cultivate medical professional instructors in general, says Robertson, but locals hope they will fall in love with the community. “It has been a regional effort to integrate medical students and staff and encourage them to become permanent residents.”
Developing all aspects of the Chaffee Crossing community is important, she says, including commercial and manufacturing businesses, to help create a thriving, economically viable living space. “Today 2,700 people will get up and come to work in Chaffee Crossing with projections of 3,600 jobs in the next five years,” says Robertson. “That’s a pretty significant number of jobs, especially for a market of our size. We’ve been through our economic downturn times, and everyone is well aware of what’s going on with manufacturing across the country, but we’ve been successful in bringing sustainable companies to this area.”
Indeed, the region is well-known across the state as a manufacturing hub, says Robertson, with a trainable, highly-skilled workforce, and the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith offering customized training for this industry takes them to another level.
“Through public and private partnerships, we are making strides in workforce development by providing training for high school students to go into the industrial, health care and tech sectors,” says Robertson. “This part of Arkansas is very steady. We don’t hit the highs and the lows as much as the national economy has to endure and recover from.” The region has been insulated and overlooked to some degree, she says, and while they don’t have big announcements very often, they definitely support and maintain the assets that they have.
“Chaffee Crossing is new and exciting because it allows us to see all kinds of new ideas being brought to life,” she says. “We were a community that was very quiet and steady and relatively stable, but we hadn’t experienced any significant growth until we were given this development project.”
The area was landlocked prior to receiving the Chaffee Crossing conveyance, with no room to expand in manufacturing, business or residential sectors. The 7,000 acres allowed them to spread their wings and explore new opportunities.
Chaffee Crossing also boasts an ideal transportation recipe, with all the necessary ingredients: the intersection of two major interstates, a navigable river with multiple port access, a commercial Regional Airport and multiple Class 1 rail lines.
“One of the beauties of Fort Smith is that somewhere in the neighborhood of 18 to 20 million people live within a five-hour drive,” says Robertson. “You can be in Dallas, Memphis, Little Rock, St. Louis, Kansas City, Springfield, Columbia, Wichita, Oklahoma City, Tulsa, or Dallas Metro in a short time. We’re really in an ideal position right in the center of the country, at the intersection of Interstate 40 and I-49,” she explains.
“Every step of the way, we’re looking to expand our assets and make improvements,” Robertson says. “It’s amazing to consider the volume of products that come out of the Fort Smith region. We want to attract industries to Chaffee Crossing that complement the medical college research facility and existing manufacturers across this area, and we’re in an ideal place to do that geographically.”
During the day, population of Fort Smith swells in excess of 250,000 people, coming from as far away as 90 miles for work, entertainment, education, and shopping. “These are daily activities and conveniences that people in a metropolitan area take for granted, but this is a mid-sized market and regional hub for commerce, good jobs and a quality income as well as access to health care and amenities.”
Quality of life is very important, says Robertson, citing a rich historic district that is listed on the national register as well as the development of a walkable community with a breadth of shops and restaurants. Cyclists, runners, and golfers can all flourish with the region’s golf courses, nature centers, canoe and kayak rentals, tennis courts, softball fields, frisbee golf, pickleball, and mountain biking trails. In the next few years, Chaffee Crossing expects to add more retail to complement residential development, including restaurants, retail shopping and service businesses. Completion of a three-phase trail plan that connects to Celebration Park and complements development in the historic district is in the works.
Robertson says the area’s history of being a manufacturing hub, the infrastructure package, the medical school and the health care element are all unique assets in place to spur on significant growth.
“Chaffee Crossing has great momentum right now; we have great local leadership and we have excellent state and national legislators in place. I think you will be hearing more and more about the Fort Smith, Arkansas region. You’ll be hearing about things happening in this development project because Chaffee Crossing is a comprehensive, Smart Growth community that has tremendous potential and momentum, and it has a great track record of success to date. We’re not stopping; we’re moving forward.”
The Authority doesn’t receive any outside funding, she adds, but exists on the sale of real estate before investing that money back into development in terms of infrastructure. FCRA has partnered with the cities of Fort Smith and Barling to build numerous street, sewer, water, and fire protection projects including a new fire station.
“FCRA returns proceeds from property sales back into the property to keep it accessible and ready for development,” says Robertson. “Our staff and board trustees know that what we’re doing in Chaffee Crossing is for both the short- and the long-term; it’s setting Fort Smith up to cultivate start-ups, retain talent, and create good income earning potential for future generations. We are creating opportunities to entice our children and grandchildren to stay in Fort Smith and develop their careers.”
All of the staff feels that way, she says. Everyone is focused on the betterment of the community for generations to come. “I know everyone thinks their community is the best and their economic development project is the best, but Chaffee Crossing development has far exceeded expectations from when the project first started,” says Robertson. “There are people around the country that would tell you that. It is exceptional.”