Bringing Back the Barracks

WORDS Dwain Hebda
IMAGES Rival CRE and courtesy Lloyd Sumpter

For eight years in the Oklahoma Army National Guard, Lloyd Sumpter honed his soldiering skills at Fort Chaffee in Fort Smith. He couldn’t have known then that life would lead him back to these very grounds, but looking back, he sees the experience as a formative one in his life overall.

“From 1987 to ‘95 our unit would come train at Fort Chaffee, and our summer training camps would be held here as well,” Lloyd says. “I served here with my father, Larry, who’s a Vietnam vet. When I was in high school, he was in the National Guard, so I joined to serve with him. Both he and I served at Chaffee.”

Lloyd, president of Rival CRE LLC, has now come full circle to the historic military address. Over the past four years, he has assembled or has under contract twenty-five former buildings on the base, which he is transforming to become The Barracks at Chaffee. The development will include retail, multi-family housing, and restaurant/brewery businesses in a walkable, mixed-use development.

“[The barracks are] a nice blank slate to start with,” he says. “The location is excellent, we’re less than two miles from the medical college where there’s going to be over one thousand students this fall and a staff of one hundred and ninety people. We’re going to be an area, with the retail and restaurants, to service the college and all the other 3,500 houses on this side of Fort Smith.”

The $20 million, roughly 121,000-square-foot development is a game-changer for both the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority and Rival CRE. With that kind of money on the line, Lloyd focused on business potential, not nostalgia, in the deal. But he said revitalizing a piece of Fort Smith history is a nice bonus.

“It’s a good feeling, the barracks are close to the active base,” he says. “You can hear the bugles playing and the live-fire procedures going on, so it almost feels like we’re still on the post. It’s also a great feeling to have a master plan to restore these. It’s really important to me because at one time, Fort Smith was planning on tearing them down.”

In May, the FCRA approved the sale of nineteen barracks buildings, two other buildings, and a gravel parking lot to Rival for just over $660,000. Those buildings join Rival’s other properties there, purchased over the past four years. One of those initial structures has been completed and is now home to Primetime Barber, Seiter Design, Hum Salon, Rival CRE, and The Barracks at Chaffee construction office.

The buildings themselves were built during World War II and included both one- and two-story construction. Over the years, the barracks were used to house various refugees, including the Vietnamese who were located in Arkansas after the fall of Saigon in 1975 and decades of soldiers and their commanding officers undergoing combat training.

Despite their age, Lloyd said the condition of the structures was sound.

“The buildings haven’t had use, they’ve been empty since 1993, and sometimes that’s the worst thing for a building, just to be unoccupied,” he says. “But as for the current condition of the buildings, a tornado touched down here in 2013, so they got new roofs and metal siding. They’re in good shape.”

“One of the big things people ask is, ‘What are the concerns with asbestos and lead paint?’ With older buildings like the barracks, we’ll be going through an abatement process the same way they take care of older buildings downtown, so they’ll be safe and inhabitable. Other than that, we’re doing a new water line, and FRCA did a new sewer line two years ago. We’re working with an electrical provider to get all-new underground electrical, as well.”

As with every good real estate deal, Lloyd said the timing was critical. On this, he was right on point as the neighborhood has all the markings for future prosperity. The Fort Chaffee neighborhood looks and feels unlike any other community in the city; he says, something not lost on prospective residential and commercial tenants.

“If you compare this to other areas in Fort Smith, everything feels more open; it feels like you’re in a different area. It has more of a country feel than being in the city itself,” he says. “The neighborhood connects to trails. A lot of this has come about from the FCRA, which was set up to help with the redevelopment of this area.”

“It’s taken years to get to where we are, and now everything is snowballing. There’s over two thousand planned residences in the works now, and they’re going to be adding to that, so it is going to continue to grow out here.”

In addition to the companies that have already moved into The Barracks, Lloyd said many more are showing an early interest in the forthcoming commercial and restaurant spaces as spelled out in the master plan.

“So far, we have been contacted by over twenty-five prospective tenants interested in leasing our buildings or being involved in the developments at some point,” he says. “We’re in negotiations with businesses right now that would allow us to build to suit for them in the barracks. A lot of these businesses are looking to Chaffee for a second location. We haven’t made any official announcements yet, but we’re looking at all of that.”

Lloyd said the master plan not only outlines the number of commercial spaces but provides a framework for the kind of business mix the company would ideally like to attract.

“Along the development, we’re building a twelve foot by 1,200-foot walking/bike trail and along that trail, there are going to be commercial spaces,” he says. “We’re specifically looking for more retail than office because we want it to be an outdoor shopping district.”

“A couple of the buildings are two-story; we’re working on designs where we’ll take the second floor out, and it’ll be the dining area for a restaurant or brewery, and we’re going to connect the two buildings with commercial kitchens.”

Lloyd is enlisting the help of architectural firms, but design and construction is all being handled in-house. He said even with the building materials shortages seen over the summer; he expects the entire project to be completed over the next thirty months.

“I’ve always worked in construction, started as a carpenter, and I’ve always been in design,” he says. “I love design work. I’m good with a vision; I can look at something and tell people what it could be before it’s finished.”

With that vision, Lloyd sees the commercial potential for The Barracks and ways that the development can help serve the wider Fort Smith community and area nonprofits.

“We have an event parking lot we’re designing that’s going to have an outdoor stage area,” he says. “We are working with local nonprofits to host their events here on our parking lot. We’re all about community, and we want this to be an amenity that will help serve them and their event needs.”

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