Council commits $18 million to old airport redevelopment

In a special item of business Tuesday night, the Conway City Council approved up to $18 million for street infrastructure projects related to the Cantrell Field redevelopment.

 

Cantrell Field, has been Conway’s airport since a single grass airstrip was made there before World War II, will be redeveloped when a new airport facility currently being built in the Lollie Bottoms area is ready for air traffic. The new airport, which will retain the name Dennis F. Cantrell Field, is scheduled to open on Aug. 14, 2014, and the “old” airport will cease operation 30 days later. Sixty days after the formal decommissioning of the “old” airport, Jim Wilson and Associates, LLC, will take possession of the 151-acres and begin development there in concert with the Conway Development Corp. as Cantrell Field Joint Venture, LLC.

City, Chamber of Commerce and Conway Development Corp. officials have declined to officially say what the Cantrell Field redevelopment will be. An announcement by the Conway Development Corp this morning is expected to answer this question.

The property has been advertised for sale for about a year, City Engineer Ronnie Hall said, ‘and everyone we visited with said that we’d have to improve the access and have connectivity back to Oak Street, and of course you can’t have that access to Oak Street go through a residential neighborhood.”

The city’s solution, then, is an access or frontage road running from I-40’s exit 127 (the Oak Street exit) south to about where the western end of the main runway ends. From there, a four-lane divided highway similar to Dave Ward Drive will run east to Harkrider Street. The developer’s purchase of the land was also contingent on an overpass over I-40 connecting the Cantrell Field redevelopment to the Conway Commons shopping center.

These projects will be funded through the city’s 1/4 cent sales tax dedicated to street projects, as well as some of the $900,000 the city collects annually through the Arkansas Highway Department state 1/2 cent tax, which Mayor Tab Townsell said has not been allocated, but will be for both these improvements and the Western Loop project.

The developer would purchase the land for $6.1 million. As part of the Federal Aviation Administration funding agreement by which the new airport is being built, all proceeds from the sale of the “old” airport property must go to construct the new one.

Cantrell Field served general and business avaiation in Faulkner County for decades, but the length of its main runway is dictated by I-40 on one end and the Union Pacific railroad tracks on the other. Obstructions other than as the interstate and railroad include trees and buildings below an approaching aircraft’s glide slope, necessitating a significant “displaced threshold,” or painted line behind which aircraft may not permissibly land. This displaced threshold further limits the operational length of the runway, and operators of a category of larger, faster and heavier business jets usually choose to land in Little Rock when conditions are not ideal. Also, various insurers prohibit their insured corporate jets from operating from Cantrell Field for these reasons.

A new runway recently completed in the Lollie Bottoms area has no such obstructions, and when completed to its eventual final length of 6,001 feet, would accommodate virtually all corporate jet traffic.

(Staff writer Joe Lamb can be reached by email at joe.lamb@thecabin.net or by phone at 505-1277.)

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