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Committee recommends challenging 'historic' determination on old airport

The old city airport is seen in this file photo. The Community Development Committee wants the city to challenge a state agency's determination that the old airport terminal is eligible for historic preservation. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

WILLMAR -- The Community Development Committee will recommend the Willmar City Council challenge a state agency's determination that the old airport terminal is eligible for historic preservation. The council will consider the committee's recommendation on Dec. 6.

The committee is recommending the council challenge the determination by the State Historic Preservation Office that the old terminal is eligible for historical designation and be placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

If the council approves the recommendation, City Administrator Michael Schmit and Planning and Development Services Director Bruce Peterson will submit a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration challenging the eligibility.

An FAA official in Minneapolis has said the federal agency will in turn submit the letter along with studies and other findings on behalf of the city to the Keeper of the National Register, who has final authority on the determination of eligibility to the National Register of Historic Places, according to Peterson. The keeper has 45 days to make a determination.

The steps involved in the challenge process were explained by Peterson and Schmit to the committee on Monday evening. Both Peterson and Schmit were members of a Willmar delegation that met with FAA and State Historic Preservation Office officials Nov. 16 in Minneapolis.

An analysis said the terminal was historically significant because it was built in 1941 as a National Youth Administration project with federal New Deal funds. The analysis cited the terminal's complex wooden roof trusses as a rare surviving example of the work done by a National Youth Administration work center.

However, a consultant's recent study found the terminal has severe mold and structural problems, and the council voted Nov. 1 to declare the terminal unsafe. City staff estimated bringing the building up to code would cost $600,000 to $1.3 million.

The issue of the old terminal's historic significance has delayed a decision by FAA to release the former airport land and terminal site to the city for redevelopment as an industrial park. A decision by a company that wants to buy the old terminal site for business expansion has been delayed as a result.

Peterson told the committee that the FAA is hinting that the amount of historically significant land surrounding the terminal should be expanded from 4.5 acres to 12 acres. He said the agency originally wanted 19 or 21 acres.

Peterson said no one is championing the cause to provide the money needed to preserve the structure.

In other community development business, the committee recommended the council approve a lease agreement between the city and the University of Minnesota to develop a bioscience business development research and outreach center at the MinnWest Technology Campus.

The city has received a $1,250,000 grant from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development to assist MinnWest in remodeling a campus building for use as a bioscience and business education center to expand the biosciences in west central Minnesota.

The project is a collaboration of the city, which will own the facility at its inception, MinnWest and the University of Minnesota. The center will be available for use by the University of Minnesota and colleges in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system.

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150