Airport Gets $67M Renovation; Bill, Hillary Clinton to Attend Friday's Formal Dedication

by Jan Cottingham  on Monday, Apr. 29, 2013 12:00 am  

He added that the airport is scheduled to pay off a 2003 bond issue in 2015 and a 2007 bond issue in 2016 or 2017. “At that point we’ll be debt-free,” he said. “And to my knowledge we’ll be the only small-hub airport in the nation that’s completely debt-free.”

Although Phase 1 will be complete May 3, airport staff will have little time to reflect on their accomplishments; Phase 1A is planned to begin immediately after the dedication.

This smaller — $3.1 million — phase includes a new color scheme for the baggage claim area — one, Mathieu said, conducive to stress-reduction — and a recharging station in the concourse for business and other travelers to recharge their smartphones, laptops and tablets. That’s in addition to a renovation of the restrooms.

The airport officials’ emphasis on careful financial management is likely a response to a number of news accounts in the past few years highlighting missteps (a $40,000 airport sponsorship of Little Rock Christian School’s football field in 2010, for example) and expensed purchases that some have considered excessive (including first-class plane tickets).

Standard & Poor’s rates the airport’s revenue bonds an A minus positive, which Carter noted made it the only small-hub airport “with a positive financial outlook.”

Both Mathieu and Arnold stressed the airport’s role — what they consider its pre-eminent role — in the community as “an economic engine.”

Asked whether it has a role other than as transportation hub, Arnold said in an email to Arkansas Business, “The airport’s main goal is to be an economic engine. The state estimates that Clinton National makes a $1.2 billion impact annually. During times of economic distress, it’s our job to stimulate the economy, which we did with our current construction initiative.

“Following the recession, the airport generated an additional $67 million in construction that provided good-paying jobs to many contractors and disadvantaged business enterprises from throughout central Arkansas.”

In an interview, Mathieu stayed on message but directly addressed criticism of airport spending practices:

“The most important thing that the airport does, which most people don’t really think about, is to be an economic generator for the community. In the past I’ve been criticized [by people] saying, ‘You know, we’re in a recession, Ron. How can you be spending this money when you’re in a recession?’

“Well, the reality of the matter is that that’s exactly when we need to be spending money because if our primary job is to be an economic generator for the community then when the economics in the community is bad and we’re in pretty good shape, that’s when you need to really expedite those projects that you’re doing, for a couple of reasons. No. 1, you get better value. And No. 2, you’re making a positive economic impact to the community.”

That out of the way, Mathieu, asked what’s next for the airport, said that once Phase 1A was complete, it may be time to pause and reflect, to seek to determine what the public and the airlines want next in a 21st century airport.

Arnold, noting the quick turn from Phase 1 to Phase 1A said, “While our passengers reach their destinations, we, as a Commission, feel we never reach ours. The commission is always looking ahead to what it needs to do to improve passengers’ experiences.”

And if former Arkansan, former First Lady, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton does make a play for president in 2016, as some speculate, win or lose the airport’s new name will stay relevant.

 

 

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