Western Arkansas Planning and Development District to negotiate buying Chaffee Crossing land for new office

Mulberry Mayor Gary Baxter speaks Wednesday during the Western Arkansas Planning and Development District Board of Directors meeting in Fort Smith. (River Valley Democrat-Gazette/Thomas Saccente)

FORT SMITH -- The Western Arkansas Planning and Development District is looking at buying land in Chaffee Crossing to serve as the site for a new office.

The district's Board of Directors authorized Executive Director Sasha Grist to negotiate with the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority to purchase about 3 acres. The authority oversees the development of the Chaffee Crossing area, which comprises land in both Fort Smith and Barling.

Grist has said the district moved in 1991 to its current office at 1109 S. 16th St. in Fort Smith, which was built in 1979. She said despite an addition to the building in 2012, the district has outgrown the property and doesn't have enough space to carry out the services and hire the staff it needs.

Mulberry Mayor Gary Baxter, a member of the Building Committee the board established in June, said the committee met multiple times to discuss either purchasing land and constructing an office building or buying a building and renovating it as needed. The committee ultimately recommended the former.

The district has money to purchase the site at Chaffee Crossing, Baxter said.

The property is on Taylor Avenue near Fort Chaffee Boulevard, according to a map provided at the meeting.

The board also approved who among them will serve on the district's executive committee and in officer positions through December 2024. These were people recommended by a separate nominating committee that, like the Building Committee, is made up of board members as well.

Grist said the Executive Committee's main purpose will be to work with her on preparing the district's 2023-24 budget before bringing it to the full board for approval.

The slate of officers include Franklin County Judge Rickey Bowman as president, Logan County Judge Ray Gack as vice president, Van Buren Chamber of Commerce President and Chief Executive Officer Julie Murray as secretary and Fort Smith Mayor George McGill as treasurer.

Executive Committee members will include McGill, Baxter, Paris Mayor Daniel Rogers, Gary Briley of Franklin County, Sebastian County Judge Steve Hotz, Waldron Mayor David Millard, Polk County Judge Brandon Ellison, and Alex Sanchez and Sandy Sanders of Sebastian County.

The district provides information, support and services concerning a variety of fields to those in Crawford, Franklin, Logan, Polk, Scott and Sebastian counties, according to the organization's website. This includes community and economic development, workforce development, transportation improvement, 911 emergency services and geographic information system/utility mapping.