A cross section of the business and political movers and shakers in Northwest Arkansas gathered Wednesday evening to tour the new $20 million concourse at the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport (XNA).
“I think you will agree that we have a real airport,” Philip Taldo, chairman of the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport Authority board of directors, said, with audience laughter following the obvious understatement.
Construction on the 54,192-square-foot concourse expansion began February 2010, and will provide 11 new gates, boosting to 22 the number of gates at the growing regional airport. The new area also includes 20 computer stations equipped with free wireless access.
The new concourse is set to become operational on Sept. 1, allowing the airport to better handle Labor Day travel.
An official with The Paradies Shops, the food and beverage vendor for the airport, said the retail outlets will eventually employ at least 100 full-time people. One of the outlets will be a themed restaurant and bar expected to seat 80 people.
The airport authority approved in February a 10-year deal with Atlanta-based The Paradies Shops to offer retail services — including food and beverage — at the airport. The company operates more than 500 stores in more than 70 airports and hotels in the U.S. and Canada.
The airport, which opened in November 1998 sporting a price tag of around $110 million, has seen its traffic grow from 329,216 in the first full year (2000) to 570,625 in 2010. During the first half of 2011 the airport reported 284,505 enplanements, up 3.98% compared to the 273,589 in the 2010 period.
Passengers out of XNA have a choice among 51 flights daily to Dallas/Fort Worth, Chicago, New York, Atlanta, Cincinnati, Memphis, Detroit, Houston, Newark, Denver, Charlotte, Los Angeles, Orlando/Sanford and Las Vegas.
XNA officials are especially pleased with the funding for the project. About $18 million was funded by a federal grant.
“The rest was reserve money the airport authority saved to help complete the project. The airport will not incur any additional debt, and none of the cost will be passed on to travelers via the airline carriers,” noted an XNA press release.
Part of the opening program on Wednesday included a video that highlighted the efforts of Alice Walton, daughter of Wal-Mart founders Helen and Sam Walton, Uvalde Lindsey and Scott Van Laningham in getting the airport built.
Alice Walton helped pull together the financing for the initial airport construction. Lindsey, who now represents Fayetteville in the Arkansas House of Representatives, worked with his wife Carol to pull together the project. Van Laningham helped manage the day-to-day work and now serves as the airport authority’s executive director and CEO.
U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., was present to make the formal opening comments. Former 3rd District Congressmen John Paul Hammerschmidt and Asa Hutchinson also attended.
Michael Tilley with our content partner, The City Wire, is the author of this report. He can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.