October 19, 2011
Last night I attended the board meeting of the Arkansas School for the Blind and Deaf, where the issue of the disposition of the old Easter Seal building was discussed in depth. The following is my understanding/opinion of the matter:
In 1957 the State of Arkansas leased 9.3 acres of undeveloped land at the dead-end of Lee street in Hillcrest to Easter Seals upon which they built their building. The land abuts the back of the Deaf School and Knoop Park. The term of the lease was for 50 years and the rent was $1 per year. The lease was renewed in 2007 for another 50 years for the same rent.
Present at the board meeting were about ten people from the neighborhood along with people from Easter Seals and a number of people from the man who wishes to acquire the property, along with the board of directors of the Deaf School.
We learned that Easter Seals has accepted an offer from Hillcrest resident John Chandler to assume the remaining 46 year lease for a one-time payment of $240,000 to Easter Seals and $1 per year to the State of Arkansas. The deal, however, is contingent upon the Deaf School releasing Chandler from requiring him to provide rehabilitation services to the deaf and blind which, of course, is the whole reason the state gave Easter Seals such great lease terms in the first place. It is my understanding that Mr. Chandler’s planned use of the building is as a warehouse/trans-shipping facility.
The building in question has a serious asbestos abatement issue looming over it which complicates the evaluation of the property. The Easter Seals representative claimed that it had tried to sell its interest in the property in 2003 but had difficulty doing so.
Mr. Chandler was represented at the board meeting by a throng of attorneys and real estate agents but he himself could not be present as he was purportedly in China dealing with his business partners.
The land is not subject to planning restriction as it is sovereign state land. It was claimed by some board members that if the deal goes through there will be no stopping any further expansion or development on the site. A concerned neighbor (and retired Arkansas Supreme Court justice) David Newbern spoke against the proposed deal as did other neighbors, some of whom seemed very upset by the matter.