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Looking to the future: Airport director outlines importance of business, and plans to finance long-term improvements

Looking to the future: Airport director outlines importance of business, and plans to finance long-term improvements

January 11th, 2017 by Greg Bischof in Texarkana News

Texarkana, Texas, Mayor Bob Bruggeman, left, Texarkana Chamber of Commerce President Michael Malone, center, and Texarkana Ark., Mayor Ruth Penney-Bell listen to comments from the public Tuesday during a Joint Texarkana Community meeting focusing on the future of Texarkana Regional Airport at the Chamber of Commerce.

Photo by Jerry Habraken /Texarkana Gazette.

Texarkana Regional Airport Director Mark Mellinger opened a wide data spigot Tuesday as he streamed out information focusing on the airport's economic viability and future potential to city officials from both municipalities.

During the hourlong Joint Texarkana Community Committee meeting at the Texarkana Chamber of Commerce, Mellinger delivered a presentation that first focused on the airport's operational and economic role and status in the community. He then spoke about plans to make and finance improvements in the long term.

Mellinger said the airport is essential in the recruitment of new business and industry in the area and that aviation and non-aviation businesses on or near the airport represent a major source of employment.

Mellinger added that the airport also stimulates the economy through local services for air cargo, food catering to airlines and aircraft maintenance.

"A good airport also encourages tourist and convention business," he said.

Mellinger noted that when tourists, industry scouts and business travelers fly in, they rent cars.

"Car-rental revenue at the airport has increased steadily over the past few years and a large percentage of passengers who rent cars are business travelers. But finally and most importantly, the airport helps bring both family members and extended family members together—and it brings them home. Children come home to their parents from college and military members come home after serving their country. It's a place to say hello and a place to say goodbye."

Mellinger then went into the airport's various revenue streams beyond car rentals, such as overnight parking and passenger facility charges—a $4.50 fee charged to each commercial passenger ticket.

Since the airport is technically located in Arkansas, Mellinger quoted an Arkansas Airport System Plan dating back to 2006. The plan stated that Texarkana's airport had more that a $32.5 million annual impact on the state back then.

Mellinger went on to speak about the airport's improvement plans, which include constructing a new, modern and larger passenger terminal to replace the current 57-year-old terminal.

"This will be a new gateway to Texarkana," he said. "A good first impression is the key to attracting new industry."

Mellinger added that he would like to see the airport eventually add more flight destinations as well as add more T-hangars for private plane owners and corporate hangars for business aircraft. At present, Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport is the airport's only available flight destination. He also suggested possibly getting Amtrak passenger train service inside the airport to make it multi-modal.

As for the new terminal and other airport improvements, Mellinger said revised cost estimates place the total price tag at $29.4 million—most of which could be financed through both state and Federal Aviation Administration Airport Improvement grant funding, as well as through local passenger facility charge fees over a five-year period (2017 through 2021).

However, while state, federal and locally generated money would generate the largest share of needed capital improvement funds (about $27.7 million), Mellinger said there would be about a $1.7 million price gap remaining that would have to be taken care of locally.

"Right now the airport still isn't self-sufficient and requires subsidies from both cities," he said. "But if we allow for more than $26 million in both federal and state grant funds to be applied to this project, the return on investment could be tremendous."

Last year, both cities had to jointly provide the airport with $388,495 to keep it in the black—since both cities own the airport.

As for the projected $1.7 million price gap, Mellinger said Texarkana, Texas, has committed to supplying just under $1.2 million of it. He added that a recent $600,000 request from Texarkana, Ark.'s, Advertising & Promotions Commission could help close the gap.

As for the airport's financial contributions, Mellinger said that all of its property leases and agreements are being re-evaluated and that its annual operations and maintenance costs are being kept at a minimum. He added that local funds won't like be needed until about 2019.

"This airport improvement project is vital to modernizing our airport and securing our community's future," Mellinger said. "The Texarkana Regional Airport is a vital economic asset to the community, so let's treat it like one!"

The chamber plans to hold its next Joint Texarkana Community Committee meeting at 3 p.m. April 11. The discussion topic has tentatively been selected as "Water Issues."

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