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Council Clears Hangar Project

Posted on August 8, 2013

Originally published in the El Dorado News-Times on August 9, 2013.

By: Tia Lyons

The El Dorado City Council has given the go-ahead on an economic development funding request to build a hangar space at South Arkansas Regional Airport.

Aldermen approved an amount of up to $850,000 to go along with state and federal funding of $970,000 that has been pledged for the project.

The city?s portion will come from the one-cent economic development sales tax.

Robert Reynolds, chairman of the El Dorado Economic Development Board, and Jeff Teague, chairman of the El Dorado Airport Commission, pitched the proposal to the council.

The EEDB approved the request when Teague presented it during the board?s July 30 meeting.

Many of the same points made then were reiterated on Thursday, with Teague pointing out that the new hangar will meet growing demand for space to store aircraft at SARA.

Teague said all the existing hangars at SARA are privately owned.

"There are no public hangars. That?s the complete antithesis of what an airport should be,? he told aldermen.

Airport manager Josh Zylks said he receives several calls a week from pilots who are inquiring about hangar space for overnight stays or transient travelers who are looking to protect their airplanes from inclement weather.

Zylks gave recent examples, one of which involved crop dusters who were working in the area and who wanted to land their planes to escape a coming storm.

The crop dusters were forced to call Monroe (La.) Regional Airport, where they stored their planes for three days.

By not having available hangar space, Zylks said SARA is missing out on serving local customers and transient fliers, and in this instance, revenue from hangar rentals and fuel sales.

Teague said the Federal Aviation Administration agreed to a maximum grant amount of $600,000, while the Arkansas Aeronautics Department kicked in $370,000 toward the project, which is estimated at $1.8 million.

He said the FAA grant is time-limited and could be revoked when the 2014 grant cycle begins.

Teague also stressed that the $1.8 million is an estimate calculated by Garver Engineers, adding that bids could come in lower.

The hangar would be large enough to accommodate four large jet planes and, possibly, up to 10 smaller aircraft.

If filled to capacity with the larger planes, Teague said SARA could take in $8,557 a month in rent.

Alderman Dianne Hammond asked about anticipated start and completion dates for the project, and Teague said dirt would not likely be turned until after the first of the year.

He said specs will have to be drawn up and the project bid.

Alderman Judy Ward asked if the city?s contribution would be a loan for the airport, and Teague said no.

The revenue generated by the hangar would go back into the airport?s operating budget, further making the facility self-sustaining, Teague explained.

Ward also inquired about the balance of the city?s economic development tax budget, noting that  $9.02 million has already been committed toward a $50-plus million dollar El Dorado Festivals and Events, Inc., plan to develop a theater and arts district on the south end of the city?s downtown.

Reynolds said he did not have the numbers with him, but he noted that the tax budget has not been overspent, overall or in any category, since its inception in 2007.

Joffre Long, vice-chairman of the EEDB, said even with the amount dedicated to EFE and the $850,000 approved by the council on Thursday, there will be about $5 million left in all three categories of the tax: talent, industry and place.

The tax will sunset in 2015 and is expected to generate a total of $32 million. Long said projections show that the amount could be exceeded by $2 million.

"So we have between $5 and $7 million not earmarked at this time?? Alderman Billy Blann asked, with EEDB members nodding in agreement.

Mayor Frank Hash said the project fits in line with the direction the city is heading with the El Dorado Conference Center, EFE, and discussions about a downtown hotel to complement the conference center.

Teague said he contacted the airport near Ashland, Ore., the place after which El Dorado is modeling its "Festival City? brand idea.

He said the airport is 20 miles away from Ashland, and the staff reported that they handle about 500 flights per year for audiences who are flocking to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland.

Hash apologized for not including a copy of the formal EAC presentation in aldermen?s packets, and Teague said he would provide copies for them at a later date.

In other business, aldermen inquired about a couple of bills that were part of the city?s statements of approval.

Hammond pointed to a bill of $43,489.57 to ACE Sign Company and a bill of $17,096.08 to Mid-South Fabricators.

Hash said the former bill is partial payment for digital marquees that will be installed at the El Dorado Municipal Auditorium and the ECC.

The latter bill, he explained, is for work to adjust a steel building to fit the dimensions of a lot the city will lease from First United Methodist Church.

The lot is at the corner of Jackson and Block and will be used for an open air market.

Hash said the project is expected to come in at $25,000.

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