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A game of tug-of-war at Deer Trails Golf Course in Fort Smith


Falling home sales in the River Valley, confusion over Deer Tails Golf Course, the Downtown Ambassador's program, and final interviews for the A&P director are on the docket with Michael Tilley from Talk Business & Politics.

Kyle Kellams: We're going to start Friday like we do most Fridays, and that's with Michael Tilley with Talk Business and Politics. Michael, welcome back.

Michael Tilley: Well thank you, and once again I apologize to your listeners that they have to start out with me, but here we go.

Fort Smith metro home sales down through June

KK: Well, we’ve got plenty to talk about, not the least of which is home sales in the River Valley. We've been watching this for a while, they've been setting records, what's the latest report tell us?

MT: Yeah, well they won't be setting a record this year. That’s not a surprise, we're seeing it all over all over the country, but higher interest rates, and in some places, the supply has really slowed down the home sales. Fort Smith metro is no different there were between January and June there were 1,641 homes sold in the metro. That's down over 16%. The value of those homes sold around 350 million, that was down almost 18%. The average home for the first half of the year was a little over $213,000, that was also down from $217,000 last year. So, that not only shows you that activity is coming down but also the price point. People just aren't able with the higher interest rates aren't able to afford those higher price points or holding off.

It's also slowing the sales cycle. The average days on the market in the first half of the year was 75, and that's well below the 66 compared to last year. You may not think that there's a big difference between 75 and 66, but if you've ever tried to buy or sell a home, every day is just a crunch day, because everything keys on that. OK, that's where we can move, that's when we can start bringing in the cleaners, the movers, everything keys on that, so that's interesting.

Sebastian and Crawford County are the two biggest counties in terms of sales in that region. Total home sales in Sebastian County were down for the first half a year 719, that’s almost 20% from the same time last year, and the value of the home sold was $161 million. That's down 16.3%. In Crawford County, home sales were down 14.5% and the home sales value was down close to 15%. It was from $69 million this year compared to almost $82 million last year.

What we're hearing, you don't have to be an expert, interest rates keeping people from buying. I’m an example of that, my wife and I are. we are getting near the end of our mortgage on our house, and we’ve thought about buying another place. Well, we’re not going to leave, a house that we have no mortgage on to jump into something that's going to have 6.5 - 7% interest on. We're just going to sit tight for a while until the market decides to figure out where it's going to go.

KK: And, of course, that just has ripple effects all the way down the line.

MT: Exactly, so we hear that from some realtors that the demand is not there. There are people that normally would said “Yeah, I'm going to sell this house. And my interest rate may go from 3% to 3 1/2% that's no big deal, that’s not a deal killer.” Well when it goes from 3% to 7%, whoops. “We’re going to have to sit tight for a while,” kind of thing. That takes homes off the market.

Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority rejects conveyance plan

KK: Not sitting tight, or maybe sitting tight for a while, is the Deer Trails Golf Course. It’s golf, but it’s also a little bit of a tug-of-war. What’s the latest about this?

MT: It’s interesting negotiations. So, the Deer Trails Golf Course, other than the Ben Geren Golf Course run by the county, it’s the only public golf course in the area, and it's pretty popular. It's in the Chaffee Crossing area, it used to be the Officers Club when Camp Chafee and Fort Chaffee were a much bigger Army base, but it’s pretty popular. It’s become an amenity of some value to home developers who have told us that they've been told by banks they're going to hold off on construction loans until they know the future of this golf course.

For some weird reason, Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority, which controls the property, has put it up for sale but they say, “Well we're not marketing it, it's just a procedural thing.” Well, that’s got everyone nervous, and they’ve asked the city of Fort Smith to step in and the city has. They initially offered them a conveyance agreement that they would keep a golf course for forty years. Long story short, the FCRA board met, and balked at that, even though they said they wanted some kind of assurance, so they said they wanted something more of an ironclad agreement but they wanted instead of 40 years they wanted 50 years. I guess those 10 years matter. The Fort Smith board of directors this week said, “OK, great, we’ll change from 40 to 50 and we’ll make the agreement a little more ironclad.” City administrator Carl Geffken is working on that and get that back to the FCRA and we’ll see if they bounce it back to them.

It's one of those things where, Kyle, if I said I wanted $10 for this widget and you said, “OK I'll give you $10,” and then I was like, “No wait, I want $11.” So it's like, OK, well, just make up your mind, we'll do whatever you want, just make up your mind.”

KK: Just let me know!

MT: Yes! So, that's where we are. I know some people say “well, it’s just a golf course,” and it's kind of true, but it's got a lot tied to it. There's obviously some development issues tied to it, I think there's political undercurrents between the FCRA and the city that’s kind of being revealed with this process, so we're going to stay tuned.

Downtown Fort Smith ambassador program fully staffed

KK: Fort Smith’s Downtown Ambassador’s Program is fully ready to go and staffed to capacity. What does this mean?

MT: Just a quick note, watching CBID for 15-20 years, and they've been talking about this for a long time, and it's kind of like, holy cow they really did it. It's both exciting and—just like the golf course—bears watching. The Central Business Improvement District last year voted in a tax assessment on themselves and so it's given them this year roughly a $250,000 budget. And what they’re doing is paying police officers and folks affiliated with the Police Department. It’s kind of an ambassador program, it’s really to try to help monitor the homeless situation. There are more people living downtown, and sometimes walking out of your apartment downtown, if there's a homeless person sleeping next to your dumpster or on your back patio it’s a little unsettling, so they're trying to help with that.

There’s also a Clean & Green program and the CBID will pay others possibly the city to do more to keep downtown looking good—keep the sidewalks clean, trim the trees, plant flowers, those kinds of things. Again, this has been talked about for a long time and it’s just started. Kudos to those CBID members who pushed this through and the Fort Smith board of directors for approving it and going along with it. We’re going to watch it, it’s a good program, all the intentions are good. This is just one of those things where we have to watch the execution. It’s we're just we're excited about it, we're excited to report on it, and hopefully it will be executed well.

Final interviews for Fort Smith A&P Director

KK: And I imagine that folks connected with the Fort Smith A&P are excited, because it appears they're headed into the final stages of hiring a new director .

MT: Yep, they have three candidates: a person from Tulsa; someone from Plainview, Arkansas; and a person from Maumelle. They’re going to interview them this week, and I think they’re wrapping up interview today. We've been told that they will send an offer letter out to their candidate of choice on August 28, so that's a pretty quick turnaround.

The position has been open since March when Tim Jacobsen left kind of suddenly, Lynn Wasson, she's been the interim since then, but she was not one of the finalists, which I thought was somewhat of a surprise. We’ll see, they’re conducting those interviews. It’s an important post, I know these kinds of jobs sometimes get overlooked, but I think that’s a pretty important post. Especially for a city like Fort Smith where you have a lot of good tourism assets, and a region that has a lot of good tourism assets. For someone to be in that role aggressively and smartly promoting those assets.

KK: And when that formal announcement is made, you'll be able to find all the news about it at TalkBusiness.net. Information about everything we talked about and much more there as well. Michael, we'll talk next week.

MT: Alright, thank you, sir.

This transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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Kyle Kellams is KUAF's news director and host of Ozarks at Large<i>.</i>
Michael Tilley is the executive editor of Talk Business & Politics.