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City Council committee backing the sale of former airport land for industrial park development project

WILLMAR -- The Willmar City Council on Monday will consider a committee's recommendation to sell 140 acres of former airport land that would not be needed for industrial park redevelopment during the next 20 to 25 years.

The city has been working on redeveloping the old airport into an industrial park after the new airport was built west of the city and opened in September 2006.

The 140 acres that the Community Development Committee is recommending be sold by real estate auction consists of two tracts: a 60-acre piece located south of state Highway 40 and an 80-acre piece located west of County Road 55 (former County Road 5).

The land sale was proposed to the committee by Bruce Peterson, director of planning and development services. The two tracts are included in approximately 300 to 340 acres of former airport property that would probably not be needed for future industrial uses for 20 or more years.

Committee members discussed and approved the proposed sale of the two tracts, but thought moving ahead with selling the remainder, located north Highway 40 and east of County Road 55, was a little too aggressive.

The council could use the proceeds to pay down the $824,380 that the city and Minnesota Department of Transportation Aeronautics agree the state spent on past airport improvements. The obligation must be repaid any and all amounts due not later than June 30, 2012.

Also, the council could create an account with funds raised by the local option sales tax. During the next two years, the obligation amount could be written down by the state's share of the cost of eligible improvement projects at the new airport.

After June 30, 2012, any excess mo-ney in the airport de-velopment account wo-uld be transferred back to the local option sales tax account or to the city's industrial/economic development fund.

"Our plan is within the next two years to meet that obligation to MnDOT, so it would probably make the most sense to hang onto the money in a separate account. And if we don't need it within the next two years, the council can make it available for whatever governmental purpose they wish,'' said Peterson.

Before the land can be sold, the city must secure the release of the land from the Federal Aviation Administration.

This will require approval of the environmental assessment and a finding of "no significant impact.'' A preservation and conservation easement for the 69-year-old former terminal building and the 4.5-acre site will need to be executed as part of the environmental assessment and land release process.

Peterson said work remains on determining the hangar's historical features. The FAA and the Preservation Alliance have said University of Minnesota students will be studying the hangar's historical features at no cost to the city.

"That means the city will not need to hire an historical consultant to do that for the city,'' Peterson said. "I was told they would have that done by the end of June.''

Once that work is completed, the city will need to come to terms with the overall easement as to what features will be protected, how those features will be protected, and who will be the beneficiaries of the easement, he said.

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