$30M Airport Intended to Spur Conway Economy

by Luke Jones  on Monday, May. 19, 2014 12:00 am  

Construction of Conway’s new airport and terminal is underway at the Lollie Bottoms region south of the city.

By summer’s end, a serene area south of Conway, near the banks of the Arkansas River, will be home to a rotating fleet of corporate jets and private planes.

The area, known as the Lollie Bottoms, was chosen to be the site of Conway’s new municipal airport, a site intended to replace the aging Dennis F. Cantrell Field, which was in the middle of the growing city.

City officials say the $30 million project, despite being $80,000 over budget, will bring economic development to the city by attracting corporate customers, and it will solve serious safety issues present at the current site.

Since it was constructed in the late 1930s, the original airstrip has been swallowed by the city, rendering it unable to expand to meet the needs of the companies that want to fly planes in and out of Conway.

“It’s still functional, but the key to our need is the safety issue,” said Jack Bell, assistant to the mayor. “Over the years, there’s been a freeway built at one end and residential and industrial areas at the other end. It’s reduced the functional length of the runway.”

Plans for a new airport have been discussed since at least the 1970s, but the airport’s shortcomings were highlighted in 2007 when a plane crashed into a residence near the airport, killing the pilot and a woman in the home, and again in 2012, when another pilot died after his plane’s engine failed.

“It’s just too closed-in,” Bell said of the current site. “The [Federal Aviation Administration] realized that and is working with us to build a new one.”

A Growing Budget

In 2012, the city set up a seven-person airport advisory commission to help with the project.

Bill Hegeman, a member of the commission and a previous chairman of the Conway Development Corp., said the process has taken a long time to break ground mainly because it was tough to find a suitable location.

“We looked at a number of different sites,” he said. “What makes this site so attractive is there’s not a lot of residential development around it, just open fields at the present time.”

But costs for the project have always been an issue. In late 2012, it was estimated to be a $20 million project, and the budget has risen by $10 million since then.

 

 

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