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Old airport terminal is now steps from being torn down

WILLMAR -- The Willmar City Council approved motions Monday declaring the old airport terminal unsafe and requesting the Federal Aviation Administration to release the decades-old terminal to the city so it can be demolished.

The motions were based on a consultant's analysis that showed the old terminal had extensive mold and structural problems that city staff estimated would cost between $600,000 and $1.3 million to bring up to code.

The terminal has been at the center of a disagreement for the past couple of years be-tween the city and state and federal aviation and historic officials over the terminal's historic significance and the FAA's delayed release of the old airport property to the city for industrial development.

Bruce Peterson, director of planning and development services, briefed the council on environmental and historic reviews of the terminal and old airport land that the city has undertaken at the request of state and federal agencies.

Peterson said FAA "has pushed the city around for a couple years, preventing us from doing anything with the property.

During the review, we were not allowed to do anything on the property and that includes making improvements to the building.''

Peterson added the mold problem in the building got worse during the period.

City Administrator Michael Schmit said when the city started review process, "we had some options early on until this idea of historical significance was being pushed and the FAA changed their position with regard to this issue of historical significance.''

Peterson said that when the city did the original environmental assessment for the new airport, the old site had no historic significance. FAA rejected the review and during the land release process and required the city to perform a new review.

The city engaged a consultant, which said the old site was historically significant. The city disagreed with the report and pursued an "adverse effect'' finding and favored preserving the building through a pictorial and written presentation.

The city was entering into that phase with FAA and the state historic preservation office when a military museum group asked to use the building. That triggered the FAA and state to back up and say the city can't pursue adverse effect. FAA also said it demonstrated there is a reasonable market for the building and that the city would have to preserve it, Peterson said. He said any future owner would have to enter into a preservation easement that details the features to be preserved.

Council member Doug Reese asked how the city went from having a building with historic significance to demolition.

Council member Steve Ahmann said the cost to improve the building isn't worth the building's value.

Mayor Les Heitke said it's ironic the state "is pushing for economic development and jobs and we have companies that want to buy that land, and we're stymied that we can't make that land available for business development when we have companies that are ready to move in there and build and produce products and we can't let them have that access.''

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