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|'What a magnificent day'|
Dozens of area residents joined local, state and federal officials Friday to break ground for the construction of a new $35-million terminal at Monroe Regional Airport.
Several city officials said Friday's event was an answer to a dream they've pursued for a number of years.
Many of them thanked Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo for his leaderships and efforts in delivering a new airport terminal to Monroe Regional.
"This was Mayor Mayo's dream, and all of us are participating in the reality," said councilman Jay Marx. "But it was his leadership and vision that leads us here today."
City council chairman Robert "Red" Stevens said the new terminal would lead to more success in the region for years to come.
"In order for us to entice businesses to come to Monroe, so our citizens can have jobs to take care of their families, you have got to put forth your best first impression," Stevens said. "When business people come to our city, our airport is that first impression."
Mayo could not hide his excitement.
"What a magnificent day," Mayo said. "What can you say? This is a historic day, a landmark day for our city and for our entire region."
Mayo recalled talking with U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu a few years ago when many throughout the country had negative views of Congress appropriating money through what are commonly known as "earmarks," or specific line items in the federal budget.
"We got together to decide what we can do to speed up this process because we appreciate the earmarks we were getting, but those were not enough to get this new terminal built in a timely fashion," Mayo said.
The city hired a financial advisor to come up with as many revenue options as possible to build the new terminal.
"We came up with a list of about 10 different funding options," Mayo explained. "When I looked at that list, I thought to myself, 'We can get this done, and we can get this done pretty soon.'"
"That was about two years ago, and I'll be the first to admit I didn't think we could do it that quickly," Mayo added.
The state Bond Commission approved a $19 million bond issue to help the city pay for construction of the new terminal. The bond sale was made possible because city voters approved a property tax increase last year to underwrite it.
Mayo also credited the federal stimulus package approved by Congress earlier this year in helping move the terminal project forward.
"In addition to coming up with innovative and creative ways to get this done in a timely fashion, when President Obama came with his stimulus package and putting money everywhere, well, they stopped by Monroe, Louisiana, and left $10 million," Mayo said. "Had that not happened, we wouldn't be here today."
"For those who say that stimulus package is not working, I am here to tell you that it is working," he said.
Mayo thanked Landrieu for her support of the stimulus package.
Landrieu was one of the featured guests at Friday's event.
"This truly was a team effort, but every team needs a leader, and that leader was Jamie Mayo," Landrieu said. "When I met Jamie early on in his term, he said, 'This is what I want to do for the community. I really think we need a new airport.'"
"Everyone agreed we needed an airport to represent the strength and power of this community and show what Monroe and this region really is," Landrieu continued. "Some people want to criticize earmarks, but we have built a lot of airports, highways and public works projects with earmarks that were well-directed.
"But the real push came when President Obama decided we needed to invest in infrastructure in America, and gave the FAA $1 billion for projects that were ready to go. Well, Mayor Mayo and the city council were ready and they were in the right place.
"This is a gateway for this region, not for just the city. First impressions are lasting impressions. When corporate executives step off the plane and look, they get an impression of this community. This airport will say more than any other public facility about that."
The city expects the new terminal to have a $75-million economic impact on the community.
Lincoln Builders of Ruston will build the new terminal following last week's ruling in a lawsuit against the city of Monroe regarding the selection of the contractor.
EnviroTech of New Orleans was the low bidder for the terminal project when bids were opened June 3.
The city selected the second lowest bidder, Lincoln Builders, because EnviroTech failed to comply with state bid procedures.
The city faced returning a $15-million grant from the Federal Aviation Administration for the new terminal project. The city had 30 days from June 12, when Ruston Builders was awarded the contract, to begin work on the project or return the money to FAA.
EnviroTech filed a lawsuit in 4th Judicial District Court and obtained a temporary restraining order to prevent work on the new terminal.
Fourth Judicial District Judge Alvin Sharp ruled in favor of the city and lifted the temporary restraining order late last week, allowing the construction of the terminal project to move forward.
The city hopes the new terminal can be completed within 24 months.