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A Little Rock Municipal Airport Commission committee is open to allowing the Federal Emergency Management Agency, if it so chooses, to rent out a vacant building that formerly housed the Southwest Airlines reservation center.

The commission oversees Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport/Adams Field, which owns the 42,800-square-foot building at 1901 Kellett Road that FEMA is considering as an office and support facility to assist Arkansans affected by the flooding.

FEMA officials have visited the building twice -- on May 31 and on June 3 -- but as of Tuesday the agency has made no decision.

"FEMA and the state are looking at a number of locations right now and for a number of different purposes," Robin Smith, a spokesman for the federal agency, said in an email.

The agency's logistics staff "indicated that there have been no final determinations as yet for any of our joint outreach needs," she added.

Airport officials briefed the commission's lease and consultant selection committee Tuesday on the possibility FEMA would lease the building for three to six months to provide office space for up to 300 employees.

If FEMA decides to lease the building, the airport would be required to make improvements to the building that the agency requires, said Greg Garner, the airport's business and properties manager.

The cost of the improvements would be built into the lease, said Bryan Malinowski, the airport's acting executive director.

If a deal comes together, FEMA would expect to move in quickly, Garner said.

"We would have to work on an emergency basis," he told the committee. "I was told that they want a lot of the work done within 48 hours. That's how quick we're talking about."

The building was last used as a call center, so it would require some modifications to accommodate FEMA, Garner said.

"One of the things that would need to be done is create quad stations in the call center for work areas, and that requires running the cable for power, for data, etc., to those locations," he said. "That's the type of work we're talking about, not heavy modifications. I don't think they would be interested in the facility if that was the case."

A commission resolution allows the executive director to execute these types of leases without going through the normal commission process in the interest of expediency, Malinowski said.

"We thought since we were aware of this, we'd share it with you and bring you up to speed and answer any questions that you have," he said. "If this becomes a reality, we would report back our efforts and all the details associated with it."

Southwest broke ground on the facility, originally priced at $10 million, in 1994. The airline closed it and other reservation centers in 2004, citing a trend in which most airline tickets are purchased online. About 700 people worked at the reservation center at the time its closure was announced.

Less than a year after the reservation center closed, the commission approved an arrangement allowing Southwest to lease the building to Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield.

In November 2014, Blue Cross notified Southwest that it would relocate its operation and consolidating it with other offices. Southwest told the airport that it would not execute a renewal option and the airport took full ownership of the property.

A Section on 06/12/2019

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