Officials expect a new aviation navigation beacon north of the Arkansas River will be activated in September 2024, members of the Little Rock Port Authority's board of directors were told at a meeting Wednesday.
Once the new beacon is turned on, officials will be able to dismantle the current installation located at the port, allowing industrial development on a swath of new acreage that was previously off-limits.
James Firestone, director of operations at the Port Authority, reported to board members that Executive Director Bryan Day was told last month that "barring any unforeseen circumstances," the switch will be flipped on Sept. 4, 2024, at which point the new beacon will be in operation.
"This has been a long time coming, but we're certainly glad to hear that and certainly appreciate Bryan and the effort that he's put into it over the years," Firestone said. (Day was absent from Wednesday's meeting.)
Known as a VOR cone, the beacon in Little Rock is part of the VHF Omni Directional Radio Range, an aircraft navigation system undergirded by ground-based installations that are maintained by the Federal Aviation Administration.
Port Authority officials long have been interested in moving the beacon to free up the 55 acres where it is located as well as surrounding acreage to allow development in the port's southern area.
After the beacon is deactivated and removed, they expect approximately 1,000 acres could become a "supersite" for a major manufacturer.
The Port Authority's board of directors in May authorized a roughly $2.6 million agreement with the construction firm DACO Construction Co. to build the new radio installation in North Little Rock.
The new beacon will be situated in an area south of Wooten Road near Interstate 440 in North Little Rock, according to a map provided by Gary Smith, an official with Kelley Commercial Partners.
"I believe that the old facility can be razed within thirty days of decommissioning," Day wrote in an email Wednesday.
Last week, Central Arkansas Water's board of commissioners agreed to allocate up to 1% of the utility's annual revenue to install a 16-inch-diameter water main through an area of the port in an effort to anticipate the water needs of a future "supersite."
Officials at the regional water utility are able to spend no more than 1% of the utility's revenue on industrial development activity annually. For 2023, that works out to around $780,000.
As a result, they are expected to allocate more money sometime next year in order to bankroll the total cost of installing some 6,580 linear feet of water pipe, which is anticipated to exceed $1 million.
The Port Authority is expected to reimburse Central Arkansas Water for an earlier purchase of over $600,000 of the 16-inch-diameter pipe.
Also on Wednesday, Jack Thomas, the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce's vice president for economic development, told board members that four site visits took place within the past month.
They included a second visit from an electric vehicle supply chain company that is exploring locations as well as a Fortune 500 international conglomerate looking for a manufacturing facility of 1 million square feet, he said.
Representatives of the latter company were shown the Bluestem Partners warehouse site, Thomas said. Although the property is 500,000 square feet, additional land is available to develop behind it, he noted.
The firm is expected to hold a board meeting this week "to determine whether they'll have the green light for that project," Thomas said. "We're still competing for that project with other communities."