Demolition looms for Aerospace Education Center

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - The commission that oversees Little Rock’s airport is to vote Tuesday whether to approve the demolition of the Aerospace Education Center, which has been closed since the start of 2011.

The Arkansas Aviation Historical Society opened the center in 1995, having raised private funds. The center was a popular attraction with an IMAX theater - the only one in the state at the time - showing science and nature films, and an aviation museum. A planetarium was added later.

But its popularity waned and the society didn’t have the revenues to keep the center open. The facility was ceded to the airport, which had given the group a 99-year lease on the land, free of charge.

Since taking over the closed center, the commission has spent $180,000 per year on maintenance and utilities.

The only use the airport has been getting from the site is its use as a cellphone parking lot, where people can wait until their party’s flight has landed and then drive onto the grounds and pick them up.

That use will continue, officials said.

Shane Carter, spokesman for the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport, said Friday the IMAX and planetarium gear would be removed in hope of finding a new home for them, perhaps at the Museum of Discovery in downtown Little Rock.

“We’ve already paid approximately $560,000 since the building reverted to us in 2001,” Carter said.

The commission has shown the building, with its theater, museum and planetarium to a number of interested groups, but no one came away with a plan to reopen the facility.

“Those are very specialized uses,” Carter said.

Still, demolishing the center would remove the site of some notable events.

In 1999, when American Airlines Flight 1420 crash landed in a violent thunderstorm, killing 11 people, the center was a holding area for relatives and friends of passengers.

A memorial to the people who died in the crash is on the site, and will remain after the demolition, if the commission gives final approval. A three-member committee has already recommended accepting a $239,000 proposal from a demolition company.

Pulaski Technical College has a training facility on the parcel, and that also would remain.

The theater was also the site when then-President Bill Clinton addressed about 100 recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military decoration, during a convention in 1997.

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