The UA System Division of Agriculture will be selling two parcels of land to raise money for updating labs and buildings to conduct research, the director of communications services for the UA System Division of Agriculture said.
The two properties that will be sold will be the land that is used for the Lewis Soccer Complex and a wooded area off Old Wire Road.
In 1993, UA System Division of Agriculture officials signed a land lease agreement with Fayetteville government officials to lend the city a parcel of land to use for the Lewis soccer fields. In return, the city lent the UA System Division of Agriculture 10 vacant acres near the south entrance of the university, situated behind Chick-fil-A, and provided fire suppression services to the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station should an emergency occur on the property outside of city limits at the time, said Connie Edmonston, director of Fayetteville Parks & Recreation.
The 25-year lease is set to expire June 30, 2018. At that time, the land will be returned to the ownership of the UA System Division of Agriculture, and it will be able to sell it, said Mary Hightower, the director of communications services for the UA System Division of Agriculture.
“Everyone that is funded by the state is strapped for funds,” Hightower said. “We have some buildings that need to be upgraded and improved.”
The UofA is a land-grant university, meaning that when it was created, the founders were given federal land to create the university with the condition that the school teach and research applications for industry. As a part of the UofA, the UA System Division of Agriculture’s specific land-grant mission is to do research on practical agriculture and use that research to benefit the community, Hightower said.
“It takes funds to make that go, and this is one of those times that we are hoping to convert the land into funds that we can use to keep our mission going,” Hightower said.
UA System Division of Agriculture officials intend to sell the 27 acres of the Lewis fields property for at least the appraised value of $4.1 million, Hightower said.
All city-sponsored recreational programs will transfer to Kessler Mountain Regional Park, which is 6.6 miles away from Lewis fields, once the lease expires. Construction on Kessler Park is halfway done with a goal of completion by the time the lease expires in June, Edmonston said.
“Back when we did our master plan, we wanted a one-stop recreation area where (Fayetteville residents) could play baseball and soccer and all sports,” Edmonston said. “We are still building it.”
Parks & Recreation officials have completed phase one of construction on Kessler Mountain, with more fields left to build. The Parks & Recreation Board, the Fayetteville Planning Commission and the Fayetteville City Council supported the proposal for Kessler Mountain to be a recreation center, Edmonston said.
Lewis fields became a cornerstone for the community in Fayetteville as people would use the fields for soccer or other sports such as rugby and ultimate frisbee, said Justin Eichmann, Fayetteville Board of Education president.
“Lewis fields have been around forever. It feels like it’s been here longer than 20-plus years,” Eichman said. “On Saturdays, when soccer season is going on, starting at 8 all the way past noon – every hour there’s a new shift of kids. Each hour is a different level from younger to older. So you’ll see on any given Saturday, there’s thousands of people coming and going. That all will be shifted to the new location.”
Junior Omar Elmougy has played on Lewis fields since he was a freshman. He played club soccer his freshman year but has played intramural soccer and practiced on his own at Lewis fields since then, he said.
“That’s pretty unfortunate that the land is going away because there are a lot of people who use the soccer complex,” Elmougy said.
Kessler Park also has a soccer community, and while there are other places in Fayetteville to play at, Lewis Park is the only park on the north side of campus where impromptu games take place, Elmougy said.
“If the university does decide to sell (Lewis Park), I will miss it,” Elmougy said.
The other parcel of land that will also be sold is a 103-wooded-acre area off Old Wire Road. It was sold to the UA System Board of Trustees in 1975 by a trust comprised of the H.C. Schmieding Produce Co. Profit Sharing Plan, L.H. Schmieding, V.H. Taylor and H.C. Schmieding, for $150,000, Hightower said. The UA System Division of Agriculture tried to use the property for fruit research, but the land proved unsuitable for that purpose. The property will be sold at an appraised value of more than $2 million.
“For us, this is more than just selling land,” Hightower said. “As a statewide entity, we have to keep our eyes on the bigger picture – of being able to continue our research and outreach to every county in Arkansas. We believe proceeds from this sale will really help us continue that land grant mission of research and extension.”