Pine Bluff Grider Field Municipal Airport’s Felix G. Smart III Terminal Building was rededicated Friday morning, more than half a century after its original opening.
About 100 people – including members of the late Smart’s family – were on hand for the official “unveiling” of the renovated facility, which dates back to 1960. Smart’s grandson, Felix G. Smart V, said he and his family were “very honored” that the facility – a recipient of a nearly $900,000 internal and external “face lift” over the past two years – was rededicated in his grandfather’s memory. He said he learned just two weeks ago that the terminal would remain a monument to the elder Smart, an aviation devotee who died in 1957.
Local aviation legend Richard Warriner, who at 91 vividly recalls working on Grider Field and with the Pine Bluff School of Aviation from 1941-45, rated the revitalized terminal as “nice.” He said he’s “happy” with all the recent renovations and additions at the airport, laughingly adding, “I was here even before we had hangars, so I’m tickled with everything that comes along.” Warriner first flew at Toney Field, the present airport’s predecessor, and once gave a plane ride here to another well-known aviator – astronaut John Glenn, the first American in outer space.
Airport manager Doug Hale recognized Warriner and others in the crowd who, like himself, have a “personal history” with Grider Field. Hale said he “grew up” at Grider Field, where his father worked as a pilot.
Ken Johnson, chairman of the city’s aviation commission, said the remodeled terminal would help the airport continue to contribute to the “overall growth and vitality” of Pine Bluff and Jefferson County. Johnson expressed gratitude to the city council, Arkansas Department of Aeronautics, Nelson Architectural Group and its lead architect Richard Taylor, and David Bell of Bell Construction Co. for their support of and services toward the renovation.
County Judge Mike Holcomb said the terminal is an example of “what happens when we have a spirit of cooperation.” He said that everyone who had a role in the renovation was vital to its success because “all parts, big and small, had to be played for this to happen.”
“This proves that a team that works together can achieve anything,” said Mayor Carl A. Redus Jr., noting that overall improvements to the airport represent “a $3-million investment in the community” since 2008. The mayor, who added that the city would like to see an industrial park developed on a 500-acre site near the airport, noted that much of that $3 million was netted through ADA grants.
ADA Director John Knight stressed that none of the grant monies involved state general revenue funds. He said the grants helping to finance the airport’s numerous enhancements were generated solely by state aviation tax collections.
“Good things come to those who wait,” Knight joked about the nearly lengthy development process. “The keyword on this project was ‘patience.’”