Josh Zylks, manager of the new Conway airport, was busy last week “tying up loose ends” to get ready for the airport’s Sept. 5 grand opening.
“There are always those little things at the time that you said, ‘I’ll deal with that later.’ Later is here,” Zylks said.
Dennis F. Cantrell Field, the $30 million, city-owned airport, will open for business in its new location on Sept. 1.
“As far as switching everything over with the [Federal Aviation Administration], the airport actually physically opens on Sept. 1,” Zylks said.
A grand opening originally was planned for Aug. 14, but Zylks said that target date was set about two years ago.
Zylks said the reason that goal wasn’t reached was, “quite simply, rain — the 18 days of rain in July we had, and we had some this month. Every day of rain you have pushes you back.”
The airport, southeast of the city in the Lollie Bottoms area near the Arkansas River, will replace the smaller Conway airport that is in a residential area adjacent to Interstate 40.
After the old airport closes, the Conway Development Corp. and Wilson & Associates of Montgomery, Alabama, will build Central Landing on the former airport’s property. They submitted the winning bid of $6.1 million for the city-owned 151 acres. The proceeds from that sale, contingent on a bond issue vote Sept. 9, will go toward the cost of the new airport.
The Federal Aviation Administration and the Arkansas Department of Aeronautics are providing most of the money for the new airport.
Central Landing will become a lifestyle shopping center. Anchored by Dillard’s, it will include other businesses, restaurants, single-family homes, town-home apartments, a hotel and office space, said Brad Lacy, president and CEO of the Conway Development Corp. and the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce.
Both airports will operate simultaneously for longer than a month, Zylks said, to wait on fuel tanks to be constructed for the new airport.
“The fuel system is still in operation at the old airport; the holdup on ours is the delay on being able to get the actual storage tanks,” he said. “The problem is they’re all custom-made to order; you can’t just go buy one. It’s just going to end up taking longer.”
The jet tanks are 70 to 80 feet long, 8 feet wide and hold 20,000 gallons of fuel, he said. The aviation tanks hold 12,000 gallons of fuel for other prop-driven planes.
Corporations are trying to build hangars, and obviously, we’re not going to run people off [from the old airport] till the fuel system is done,” he said.
Two corporations have signed leases and will build hangars. “[They] will be starting here very soon,” Zylks said. Deposits have been put down. “Some of those will eventually build; we don’t have a timetable,” he said.
The new airport can handle larger planes because of the longer runway than at the existing airport, he said.
The new runway will initially be 5,500 linear feet, compared to fewer than 4,000 feet at the existing airport, said Bill Adkisson of Conway, a pilot and attorney.
He was a member of the committee that chose Zylks.
One of the major reasons the airport is being relocated is for safety. On June 29, 2007, a plane crashed into a small house near Cantrell Field, killing the pilot and a woman inside the home.
A few weeks later, the FAA approved Conway’s land-use plan for the airport in the Lollie Bottoms area.
A Mississippi man was killed in 2012 trying to return to the Conway airport after his engine failed after takeoff.
Officials have said the new airport will be a boost for economic development.
“The unfortunate fact is, we just really don’t know how much business we’ve been losing because of the size of the airfield, so it’s kind of going to be a wait-and-see kind of thing,” Zylks said.
In an interview published in the River Valley & Ozark Edition after he was hired in May, Zylks said, “From an economic perspective, providing better access to the community, whether it’s business owners or people flying on the weekends for fun, … providing better access brings in tax revenues.”
People who have rented hangars can move in on Sept. 5, he said. Of the 36 enclosed T-hangars, all are rented, “and there’s a waiting list,” he said. Ten sun-shade hangars, “just roofs,” he said, also are rented.
Zylks said he is excited for people to see the $1.6 million terminal, too.
“It’s beautiful; it is absolutely fantastic,” he said. “It’s brand-new, it’s very modern. Georg Andersen has done the interior design.”
Zylks said installation of the hardwood flooring was completed Monday, but the carpet wasn’t installed.
“They’re putting in the last bit of baseboards and things like that, and hanging TVs,” he said.
He said concrete for the apron and taxiways, as well as the parking lots, was poured last week.
The grand opening is set for 1:30 p.m. Sept. 5, and guests will see a nearly completed airport, he said.
“The safety area around the runway, we’ll have all that in by the 1st,” he said. “Some of the lighting around the hangars — some of that work is going to be going on to a small extent.
“Everything but the landscaping” should be complete by Sept. 5.
Zylks said several pilots have told him they will be on hand to witness the long-awaited airport opening.
He said several dignitaries have been invited to the grand opening, including U.S. Sens. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and John Boozman, R-Ark.; and U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin, R-Ark., all of whom have confirmed their visits.
Also invited is John Knight, director of the Arkansas Department of Aeronautics, who announced his retirement last week.
“We hope he’s still able to come,” Zylks said.
Jamie Gates, senior vice president for the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce, has been working on grand-opening festivities.
“We’re waiting to hear from the governor,” Gates said Monday. “My hope is to have all the VIPs make the first official landing. That’s my goal.”
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.