FORT SMITH -- A developer plans to revitalize a historic staple of Chaffee Crossing while paying homage to the area's military history.
The Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority trustees approved Rival CRE to do a $10 million renovation of the barracks and buildings on the north and south sides of Buckhorn Street for restaurants, retail and living space. The project includes gathering spaces between barracks and a sidewalk for walking and cycling.
The renovation of the main row of 13 barracks is expected to take 18 months, said Lloyd Sumpter of Rival CRE.
"When I arrived, I obviously saw this as a very unique, one-of-a-kind, infill redevelopment-type project, and wanted to honor the history of this place," said Daniel Mann, authority director. "Lloyd and I have been working on this probably for the last nine months pretty hard."
Constructed at the start of U.S. involvement in World War II, each of the two-story barracks housed 30 soldiers and two officers for combat training. The barracks also have been used to house refugees, including Vietnamese who came to the states after the fall of Saigon in 1975.
Officials discussed demolishing the barracks around 1998, when the Redevelopment Authority was established.
"Luckily, they remained, and now we have a pretty exciting project," said Mann.
The 13 barracks that line the south side of Buckhorn Street will be the first of 20 completed in the project. Twelve barracks will have 24 spaces for retail, restaurants and offices on the first floors and 48 one-bedroom apartments above. Six patios with fire pits and gathering spaces will be built between the barracks.
Sumpter hopes to provide space for health-conscious businesses such as smoothie bars.
"This is the health and fitness capital of Fort Smith -- all the 5K runs, fundraisers and events, bike rides -- everything starts at Chaffee," said Sumpter. "We're health-oriented, fitness-oriented, so we wanted to cater to that."
Sumpter also said the development will complement the area's entertainment district designation, which allows pedestrians to walk outdoors with alcoholic beverages.
On the north side of Buckhorn, four barracks are designated for townhomes and a parking lot will replace one building that will be torn down. Three more are designated for restaurants and breweries.
One of the three single-story buildings south of the row of barracks holds Primetime Barbershop at Chaffee and Seiter Design Company. Sumpter is in negotiation to add a Mexican restaurant to the building in the southeast corner of the development and hopes to add a brewery to the building on the southwest corner.
Primetime owner and barber Erica Page and her staff are excited about the development.
"We're looking forward to a bustling area," she said.
Sumpter hopes to develop the row of 13 barracks before the rest of the project. Since the Redevelopment Authority approved the partnership with Rival CRE on May 20, more than 20 businesses have tried to secure space in the development.
"Once we get those mixed-use buildings in over the next 18 months, we're going to be able to attract some pretty large players" for the brewery and restaurant spaces on the north side of the street, he said.
The sidewalk that runs between the row of barracks and the one-story buildings will be replaced with a 12-foot-wide sidewalk to accommodate pedestrians and cyclists. This complements the trail system at the Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine, which the Redevelopment Authority has approved to extend onto Roberts Boulevard, Mann said.
Additionally, the barracks will have a walking tour highlighting the history of the military units that trained at Fort Chaffee. The tour will include information about the refugees who stayed at the former military base, Sumpter said.
The history tour ties into the residential spaces, which will include single-night rental units that accommodated Hurricane Katrina evacuees who stayed at Fort Chaffee in 2005, Sumpter said.
"A lot of the people want to come back and revisit, so they get the chance to stay here," he said.
Renovation of two of the barracks will begin in July. Sumpter is working on closing the other barracks and inspecting for lead paint and asbestos.
Once complete, the project will contribute to the more than $2 billion in capital investments at Chaffee Crossing since the Redevelopment Authority began.
"Every single project matters," Mann said. "It matters to the developer, it matters to the people who are employed."