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Purchase agreement terminated for airport property

Bergh's Fabricating, across from the former airport terminal on Airport Drive in Willmar, terminated its three-year agreement with the city to buy the former airport terminal site. Tribune photo by Ron?Adams

WILLMAR -- Bergh's Fabricating has terminated its nearly three-year purchase agreement with the city to buy the former airport terminal site.

Bergh's was interested in buying the site, located across from the company on Airport Drive. But the purchase is pending the Federal Aviation Administration's release of the old airport to the city. The city has been hoping to develop the old airport into an industrial park after the new airport west of town opened on Sept. 5, 2006.

But the FAA is holding up the land release because the old terminal has been declared eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

However, the city declared the 60-plus-year-old terminal unsafe due to mold and structural problems and the FAA has asked the city to study reuse of the terminal before any consideration is given to demolition.

The City Council earlier this month authorized Engan Associates of Willmar to conduct the study.

Bergh's entered into the purchase agreement on July 30, 2008. But in a letter to the city dated April 28, the company said it is terminating the agreement due to land release issues with the FAA and the State Historic Preservation Office.

Even though Bergh's terminated the agreement, the company requested the right to buy the site or other former airport property if the FAA releases the land. Also, the company requested approval to continue leasing the terminal area for storage and asked for the return of its earnest money.

Bruce Peterson, director of city planning and development services, said he met with company owners. He said they were concerned whether or not they would be in a position to buy the property should it become available and they proposed the termination on the condition that they have the option to buy the same site or adjacent property on Airport Drive.

Bergh's requests were approved this week by the City Council.

Peterson was pleased the company is still interested in the property.

"They still want to do it,'' he said in an interview. "The big issue all along has been whether or not how we deal with it in the interim while we're waiting for the land release. They were left in limbo just like the city has been left in limbo.''

In other airport business, the council approved an agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration in which the agency will pay the city $500 per year to rent space in the pilots' quiet lounge at the new airport for a new remote communications outlet and new backup emergency communication equipment.

They will replace equipment located in the old airport terminal. The old equipment cannot be maintained and is failing because access to the terminal has been blocked due to mold and safety issues, according to airport manager Megan Sauer.

In an interview, Sauer said the current equipment is far from the new airport and doesn't provide the best quality of transmission all the time. Pilots use the equipment to open and close flight plans and provide air and ground weather updates.

Another reason to move the equipment is because the lease at the old airport expired some time ago. She said moving the equipment was something that should have been done when the new airport was built and was one aspect that was overlooked. The new airport is the natural location for the equipment, she added.

Sauer said technical staff at the Minnesota Office of Aeronautics and FAA donated time and resources for the project. FAA will pay for and install some items and additional wiring and electrical work will be paid by the city.

Holly Wilson, city public works director, said local funding is included in the airport operating budget. She said FAA has indicated that once the land release is completed, there may be a potential for the city to ask State Aeronautics for reimbursement.

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