Texarkana Regional Airport will hold a groundbreaking June 12 for a two-story, 37,000-SF terminal as it prepares for a post-COVID-19 future that could include a shift to more cargo service, the wooing of a low-cost carrier and land development.
The $36 million terminal project will be 90% funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation, Executive Director Paul Mehrlich said. The DOT awarded $4.9 million for the project earlier this month.
The other 10% is coming from the Arkansas Department of Commerce’s Division of Aeronautics, the Texas Transportation Department and the cities of Texarkana, Texas, and Texarkana, Arkansas, which own the airport.
Mehrlich said the project had not been delayed by the pandemic; the terminal is still expected to open in the spring of 2024. “We actually got kind of lucky with that, because the airport ended up getting some funds with the CARES Act. That allowed us to kind of keep things moving forward without any major delays,” Mehrlich said, referring to federal coronavirus aid legislation.
“I know a lot of airports across the country decided to stop projects, but we decided that we were going to keep moving forward. This has been kind of a long time coming.”
Before getting about $1.1 million in CARES funds, the airport faced a $300,000 deficit and laid off four people. It also created the position of real estate and marketing manager to ensure steady income from long-term leases post-COVID. In late March, it received another $1 million in DOT pandemic aid.
The airport has been seeing a resurgence in passengers, Mehrlich said.
The terminal will move to the other side of the airport so that passengers will no longer have to cross train tracks. The terminal will have a direct exit from Interstate 49 and feature a jet bridge. McClelland Consulting Engineers Inc. is the contractor, working with WDD Architects of Little Rock and Fayetteville.
Mehrlich said airport officials started talking about the project about 15 years ago, long before he was named director in February 2020, because Texarkana’s terminal was built more than a half-century ago. He called the project “the beginning of the airport’s renaissance.”
“There was the question of do we just simply renovate it or do we do something new, and we kind of looked around and said Texarkana is ready to take the next step into becoming a larger metropolis. We want to grow, we want business here, we want to see everyone in the area succeed,” Mehrlich said.
Texarkana is a crossroads between Little Rock and Dallas, he said, predicting that the expansion of Interstate 49 north to Fayetteville and ripple effects from Dallas’ growth will accentuate that.
“This area is going to drastically be changing, and we expect, as jobs come in, our population is going to increase. And we want to be ahead of that,” Mehrlich said. “We want to be ahead of the curve instead of chasing it.”
He wants the airport to take its lead from organizations like the economic development nonprofit AR-TX REDI and the TexAmericas Center industrial park. “As they’re attracting businesses, we’re going to be focusing on trying to bring in cargo and greatly expand the airport so we can support that future growth.”
The airport, which has predominantly served business travelers, will also look to recruit a low-cost carrier, Mehrlich said. Like many aviation professionals, he expects less business travel now that the pandemic has spurred a less expensive alternative: videoconferencing.
The pandemic has also spurred an increase in the use of small jets, viewed as a safer-for-your-health form of transportation, Mehrlich said.
He said other airport plans include developing 30 acres for a hotel, restaurant or gas station to will serve the airport and surrounding businesses. Within two years, he hopes to request proposals from developers and start construction just as the terminal is being finished.
In addition, the airport is seeking an airport operations manager who can help it build out a team for operations. It would also like to attract a maintenance repair operating company to employ graduates of its on-site aviation school, Mehrlich said.