photo by Mike Muench Photography
photo by Mike Muench Photography


As he escorts a community group through the striking new Jim Yates terminal at the Texarkana Regional Airport, Executive Director Paul Mehrlich expresses pride at the fact that his name, along with other airport and city officials, will be permanently displayed on a bronze plaque in the terminal lobby. However, he quickly points out that he is only a piece of the vision established many years ago to build a unique and beautiful terminal in Texarkana, USA. The terminal officially opened with a celebratory ribbon cutting on Friday, June 28, and the first flight taking off on July 1, 2024.

According to Greg Bischof, in a 2011 article published in the Texarkana Gazette, the airport started commercial passenger flights in June 1931 with American Airways, which later transitioned to American Airlines. Service was suspended from 1934 until 1943 to lengthen the runway and light the airfield. Once known as the Texarkana Municipal Airport, it returned to passenger service by 1948 and eventually became a regional service provider, which continues today. These early milestones contributed to its growth and expansion, resulting in the new and improved airport we are experiencing today. The Texarkana Regional Airport has a lasting place in the transportation infrastructure of Southwest Arkansas, Northeast Texas, and beyond.

Texarkana icon Prissy Hickerson, who served as Highway Commissioner for ten years and three terms as State Representative in Arkansas, was instrumental in setting the stage for the new terminal years ago. Only the third female to ever serve on the Highway Commission, Hickerson was appointed by then-Governor Mike Huckabee and made it her mission to look out for Southwest Arkansas. With approximately $50 million annually plus additional federal funding earmarked for projects in the coffers, she prioritized completing Interstate 49 (I-49) from Highway 71 North to the Louisiana line. The project had been on the drawing board for fifty years and was crucial for the economic development of Texarkana and the region. According to Hickerson, the East 19th Street exit off I-49 was not a part of the original plan. “Representatives from the city, Airport Authority, and the Chamber met with the Highway Commission and made a case for opening the exit at 19th Street for future access to the airport. The city’s leadership felt that for long-range planning, it was important to locate the entrance to the airport off 19th Street near the Industrial Park.”

Airports are potent engines of economic growth, and as we compete on a global stage for new business opportunities, having a regional airport is an important asset. In addition to having a ready workforce, accessibility is a critical influencer in a business choosing to locate, relocate, or expand. Opportunities to grow our tax base ultimately benefit all citizens. We are fortunate to have had visionaries who saw the need for an airport in the 1930s. With the opening of our new passenger terminal, we will project a meaningful first impression to our guests, whether coming to Texarkana for business travel, as visitors to our region, or to see family members.”

—Allen Brown, Texarkana, Arkansas Mayor

Airport Authority Vice Chair David Potter II agrees. “The airport is the front door to our city. Having the terminal access off East 19th will dramatically improve our first impression for visitors and prospective business and industry partners.” Mehrlich concurs and adds the foresight to put the fire station next to the site of the future terminal, which helped make the construction of the new terminal possible. “We already had a road and utilities leading to the terminal’s location. These factors expedited the process when we were ready to transition to the construction phase.”

Mehrlich is thankful that everything has come together and admits the terminal project has come to fruition with barriers and obstacles along the way. A new terminal had long been a dream of Texarkana, Arkansas, and Texarkana, Texas officials. The looming question was always how to pay for it. “It had to be pushed. In some ways, COVID opened new funding for the terminal. Millions of dollars were available to assist with various project phases.” In addition to maximizing COVID relief money, Mehrlich has been tenacious in applying for grants and working with government officials to secure funding for the airport. Further, airport, city, and community members are incredibly grateful to the Yates family for their generous donation of three million dollars over two years to ensure the vision of a state-of-the-art terminal became a reality. In turn, the terminal is named the Jim E. Yates Terminal in memory of the late Jim Yates. Members of the Yates family stood alongside local officials during the ribbon cutting on June 28 as they celebrated the monumental opening of the airport terminal.

Although Mehrlich quickly shares accolades with many others, Rob Sitterley, President and CEO of AR-TX REDI, praises Mehrlich for his leadership and oversight of the airport and the terminal project. “I knew Paul was our guy the first time I met him,” he said. “He has increased our exposure nationally and works with me to attract companies to the airport and our region. Our visionary leader sees the value of bringing companies to our city. Most people in Orlando and Las Vegas have never heard of Texarkana. Paul is out there promoting our city at the national level. We will improve the economy by leasing land and filling this area with projects. The airport is the economic driver of the cities.”

The Texarkana Regional Airport will serve as a central focal point for future growth and economic development. By providing expanded air travel options for travelers, it will also serve as a commerce hub for the region by developing aviation-related industries and training opportunities.”

—Bob Bruggeman, Texarkana, Texas Mayor

Both Sitterley and Mehrlich discuss the value of Texarkana College, establishing an aviation program that will begin in the Fall of 2024. The airport campus will house the Airframe and Power Plant Mechanic training program. This initiative and letters of interest from prospective industries that plan to lease property from the airport will lead to jobs, stimulate the economy, and provide a steady revenue stream to move the airport to financial self-sufficiency. These pending projects are predicted to bring several hundred jobs to our area. Arkansas State Representative Carol Dalby shares these sentiments and feels the airport terminal project is a crucial component to the future expansion of commercial aviation and economic growth in our region.

Congressman Nathaniel Moran has expressed his support of the airport terminal, the runway expansion, and the impact of the project on the future of our region. “Transformational economic development projects like the one unfolding at the Texarkana Regional Airport come only as the result of visionary leadership at the local level, combined with strong partnerships at the local, state, and federal levels working in tandem with undeterred resolve to overcome inevitable obstacles and push the project to successful completion. The airport expansion projects need to be completed in full. It is an economic truism that infrastructure always precedes economic growth, development, and new opportunities. I am certain that time will once again validate this truth in Texarkana when the airport projects are complete. I am confident that the Ark-La-Tex region will see exponential benefits flow as a result, whether measured in new businesses, new jobs, and a growing tax base.”

In addition to the airport’s economic impact, the terminal’s aesthetics are simply beautiful and tasteful. Surrounded by trees, the airport has a bit of a lodge feel by design. Mehrlich shares, “Right now, we are not much different from any other small airports in Arkansas and Texas. The new terminal sets us apart.” Thoughtful details abound throughout the airport, which was something Mehrlich insisted on as he worked with designers and architects. All the wood is Southern Pine harvested in Arkansas. The stone is Texas Limestone quarried just north of Austin. The flooring has a red tone and meanders to resemble the Red River. The carpeted areas resemble the pebble banks of the river. The chandelier depicts leaves blowing in the wind and comprises over 1,000 hand-blown glass balls.

The master plan for Texarkana Regional Airport sets the tone for future economic growth in this region, complementing the efforts of our partners, AR-TX REDI, Nash Industrial Development Corporation, and TexAmericas Center. Just take notice of what’s to come over the next 25 years.”

—Denis Washington, Texarkana Chamber of Commerce President and CEO

Additionally, the fireplace is 60,000 pounds of stone and requires additional red steel underneath it to support the weight. It is in the middle of the room, much like State Line Avenue, representing the joining of our twin cities. In the bathrooms, hand dryers are equipped with HEPA filters, and baby changing tables have UV lights to sanitize the surface after every use.

Mehrlich wants each visitor to have three “wows” when they get off the planes in Texarkana— the fireplace, the chandelier, and the Caddo Hunter statue.

The Caddo Hunter will be prominently displayed outside the entrance of the terminal and was created by Dick Idol, also known for making the Wild Band of Razorbacks monument displayed at the Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and Vic Payne, who famously created the Jumano Native American in San Angelo, Texas. To add to the customized artistic feel of the terminal and to honor more of our regional history, a striking portrait of Tuskegee Airman Lieutenant Colonel Woodrow Crockett, who was born in Homan, Arkansas, will be displayed near the check-in area of the terminal.

Congressman Moran sums it up this way, “The sky is the limit (pun intended!), and I’m excited to stand strong with Texarkana’s leaders of vision who are acting today to shape a better future for tomorrow—one nautical mile at a time.”

For those like the Honorable Prissy Hickerson who have watched the terminal project and the runway expansion project simmer for years, this moment in the history of Texarkana, USA, will be one of the greatest. “For most people, it seems like it happened suddenly, but we all know it didn’t. The result is impressive. I am excited that it will put a new face on Texarkana. Some people will say, ‘I can’t believe it’s Texarkana.’” Sitterley summed it up when he stated, “The new Jim E. Yates terminal is Texarkana’s shining beacon, reflecting both cities’ forward-thinking and lively nature. As the first point of contact, it sets the stage for visitors to discover the multitude of cool things our community offers. This is a crown jewel of the region, promising to surpass the expectations of even the most well-traveled individuals.”


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