JAY CHESSHIR: Port likely to get its land back June 1.

The Little Rock Port Authority learned at a meeting today, as indicated here yesterday, that the deal with CZ-USA, a Czech gun maker, likely will expire June 1 and the prospects for reviving it are hazy.

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Under a deal struck with the city and the state in 2019, CZ was given 73 acres worth $1.7 million at the port and a promise of almost $22 million in state incentives to build a headquarters and factory at the port. Under an amended agreement, it promised to begin construction by June 1 this year. No dirt has been moved to date.

Jay Chesshir, CEO of the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce, said development officials knew at the time they first met with CZ that CZ’s options were building a plant or acquiring an existing manufacturer. It decided to build. But an underperforming stock offering, the pandemic and other issues slowed the development of a factory that, when announced, was supposed to open this year.

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CZ continued to seek other existing manufacturers and last week it announced a deal to acquire Colt. That deal still needs regulatory approval. That will take “quite some time,” Chesshir said, but “no one expects it to not go well.”

So that brings the port to the June 1 deadline for CZ to begin construction. “The likelihood of that happening is probably very slim if not downright impossible,” he said. That also will mean the end of the state’s promised incentives for the project.

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He noted the governor had said the state wanted to continue to pursue a move of Colt operations to Little Rock. And Chesshir said CZ’s desire for additional capacity wouldn’t necessarily be entirely met by the Colt purchase.

Once the Colt acquisition is complete, Chesshir said, “we want to revisit the possibility of them looking at Little Rock and the port as a place to build whatever their next capacity needs might be.”

He said the port is not harmed, except that the project is not likely to move forward in the next five years (up to five the company said this week). “But we believe there’s a strong possibility about additional construction capacity at some point in the future.”

Those conversations will continue, he said, “but they won’t move to any actual action for quite some time.”

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He added that the “pipeline” for “significant projects” at the port “remains robust and full.” He offered no specifics.