The Little Rock Airport Commission voted unanimously this morning to rename the Little Rock airport the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport.
The vote came after a short public hearing at which people expressed their support or opposition to the renaming.
Among those speaking for the name change were Jerry Jones, legal officer and vice president at Acxiom, who praised the former president and secretary of state for their contributions to Arkansas; former Clinton aide Bob Nash, who said Clinton's policies as both governor and president and Hillary Clinton's work with children have improved the life of Arkansans; state House speaker-elect Darrin Williams, who called the Clinton Presidential Center an "amazing" economic engine; Paul Leopoulos, longtime Clinton friend and head of the Thea Foundation, who said the Clintons have worked tirelessly to improve the life of people around the globe; and Charles Stewart, chair of the Black Hall of Fame and a member of the board of Heifer International, who said naming the airport for the Clintons would "elevate its stature" and that without the Presidential Center that Heifer International would likely have built its headquarters in Chicago or some other larger city.
Gene Fortson, city director and former Airport Commission member, spoke in Mayor Mark Stodola's stead, saying it was his view that the naming was not about politics but about recognizing a six-term governor, two-term president and a secretary of state.
Airport Commission Chair Jim Dailey thanked the speakers for their input and called for a vote. Asked after the vote if public comment had been adequate, he said yes, since the idea had been discussed more or less openly since December and actively at a commission committee meeting. "Some wanted a longer period of time [for public comment]," he said, but "I don't think it would have made a difference."
The airport will send the FAA papers on the name change today; Executive Director Ron Mathieu, speaking by phone, said the Commissioners could refer to the airport as the "recently renamed" Clinton airport.
See renderings of proposed signs from our earlier item.
(More on the jump.)
This is the response from the Clintons:
"Hillary and I are humbled by the Little Rock Airport Commission's decision
this morning," said President Bill Clinton. "We are grateful for this honor
and for all that the people of Arkansas have done for us. And we look
forward to many happy landings at the airport in the years ahead."
In other business, the Commission heard from Mathieu that U.S. Airway's direct service from Little Rock to Washington (which Dailey noted would be from Clinton to Reagan) is on track to start March 25 and that there will be a celebration at the inaugural flight.
Mathieu also noted that HMS Host restaurant at the airport was the highest grossing restaurant in Little Rock for the fifth year in a row in 2011 and that Whole Hog barbecue restaurant, which opened March 12 on the concourse, already had long lines.
T.J. Williams reported to the board that the number of people flying out of the airport (80,139) and into the airport (80,877) in February was up 19.45 percent over February 2011, which she attributed partly to good weather and the lack of canceled flights.
Vision Airlines, which offered Little Rock to Destin flights last year, has decided to no longer fly out of Little Rock; it is no longer flying into Destin.