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story.lead_photo.caption FILE — A business jet is towed from a hangar at North Little Rock Municipal Airport in this 2018 file photo. - Photo by John Sykes Jr.

The North Little Rock City Council approved by one vote Monday night a $4.5 million revenue bond to help fund $5.7 million in improvements to the North Little Rock Municipal Airport, including adding a Homer's restaurant adjacent to the planned new terminal.

Mayor Joe Smith cast the tie-breaking vote for the 5-4 decision. The mayor only votes if needed to reach a necessary fifth vote for approving legislation. The four men on the council voted for the proposal, with all four female members voting against it.

The $4.5 million bond is to help pay for a new terminal building, a corporate aircraft hangar and expanded parking for the airport, located at 8200 Remount Road, along with the building shell for a Homer's restaurant. Another $100,000 in airport funds is allotted in the city's budget, and $1.1 million from an unrelated sale of city property in February will be added to the project proposal, pushing its total budget to $5.7 million.

Smith said at the start of a long discussion about the proposal that he agreed with airport director Clay Rogers' assessment that the upgrade "is a game-changer" for the airport, located on the north edge of the city in Ward 4.

Smith had previously lamented the airport's lack of a modern aviation center, saying its condition hurts attracting new businesses to the city. The limited hangar space also keeps the airport from leasing space and selling fuel to corporate jets.

The airport opened in 1960.

"Public investment creates private investment," Smith said right before the vote was taken. "This is economic development."

The concept of a restaurant had been removed from initial plans for improvements, but interest in leasing airport space for a locally owned Homer's made adding a restaurant feasible, Smith said last week.

Homer's Restaurant/DC Group Inc. would invest "probably close to a half-million dollars" to build out the restaurant once the shell is completed, Smith said. Homer's is an established restaurant in Little Rock with two locations. Homer's at 2001 E. Roosevelt Road, opened in 1986 and Homer's West, 9700 Rodney Parham Road, started in 2012.

Smith will bring back contracts for the restaurant and the fixed-base operator building for the council to consider within the next month.

Ward 4 Council Member Jane Ginn, speaking against the proposal, said taxpayer funds would be better used for needs in the city that would affect more of its residents, rather than for an airport used by far fewer.

"Less than 1% of residents step foot on the North Little Rock Airport grounds, much less use it," Ginn said.

Council Member Charlie Hight, also of Ward 4, spoke in support, saying this was the first chance he's had in his 19 years on the City Council to "vote for something in Ward 4 capable of producing revenue."

"I like Homer's," he said. "I see this as a way of getting city funding for something in our ward. We've got to give them [Homer's] a chance."

Metro on 07/23/2019

Print Headline: Mayor breaks council tie to OK $4.5M bond for North Little Rock airport upgrades

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