AIRPORT COMMISSION: Concerns about Airport's FBO may delay lease decisions
The Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport Contracts and Leases Committee met Monday to discuss the transfer of fixed-based operation (FBO) ownership and the airport’s lease to the FBO’s new owners.
Airmotive owner, and current airport lessee, John Riedl Jr., announced in October plans to sell his business to area businessmen. That group now includes Chris Kurtzman, D.J. Dondelinger and FBO manager Jeff Voigt.
Because Airmotive’s lease with the airport doesn’t expire until Dec. 31, 2013, the buyers interested in purchasing Airmotive, Inc. requested the current lease be extended to a five-year lease.
According to the current lease agreement, any transfer in ownership of the FBO would require approval from the airport commission.
John Riedl Jr.’s family has owned and operated Airmotive, Inc. at the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport for 58 years making a change in ownership new territory for the current airport commission.
“There’s not a playbook or something we’re going by, said commission Chairman Andy Larson.
Larson and Commissioners Jeff Czeczok and Don Jacobson expressed varying levels of concern over how the lease extension would be handled in light of potential transfer of ownership.
Don Jacobson brought to the attention of the meeting an anonymous email sent to the Brainerd City Council, Crow Wing County Board, as well as the Brainerd Dispatch, suggesting that the airport commission, namely Jacobson, had shown favoritism in its discussions of transferring the FBO lease, as well as Airmotive to a new owner.
The unsigned email suggested that extending the lease between Airmotive, Inc. and the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport prevented a viable competition from seeking the FBO lease. The email also accused Jacobson of meeting in a closed meeting with the potential buyers, something Jacobson said Monday is simply not true.
“I had absolutely no contact with the applicants whatsoever,” Jacobson said “These are my ideas only.”
Jacobson expressed his distaste for such personal criticism from someone who chose not to share their identity, but said he felt because it addressed him personally he should give some clarity to the situation.
“This committee can do whatever it wants, but it still has to go back to the commission,” Jacobson said. “If this person wants to put their name to it, I’ll be happy to talk to them.”
Commissioner Jeff Czezcok told the committee that he felt words misspoken in the previous committee meeting could have led some to believe Jacobson was going to go over the business plan, not the lease with the buyers.
“That may have been misperceived,” Czeczok said.
The concerns in the email and from other members of the community and the airport commission itself were enough, Larson told the committee, D.J. Dondelinger and Jeff Voigt, to validate his own concerns about extending the lease within 12 months of when it was set to expire.
“To be honest I didn’t have this level of concern a month ago,” Larson said. “I want to make sure that, from the airport’s perspective, the perception is one of absolute transparency.”
Kurtzman was not present at the meeting.
Larson told the committee the alternative would be approving a change of ownership of FBO.
Dondelinger and Voigt discussed the viability of a business limited to a one-year lease contract.
“We’re not here just to sell gas,” said Voigt, who told the committee the new owners plan to expand flight and maintenance service at the airport. “The problem is we can’t do that on a one-year deal.”
Dondelinger told the committee that no business would be able to do the job well limited to a one-year lease.
“We could come here and run this for John (Riedl, Jr.) and do a hell of a job,” said Dondelinger about operating on a one-year lease. “But we’re just going to run it at status quo.”
Dondelinger said it would be difficult to hire staff who would need to relocate for employment under a one-year contract.
“I understand what your position is,” Dondelinger said. “I just hope you understand what ours is.”
The committee considered the idea of taking no action and allowing new bids to come in when the current lease expires, to which Voigt and Dondelinger argued the airport could be far worse off if they allow the lease to expire potentially forcing Riedl to auction off his business in pieces.
Voigt clarified to the committee that the offer on the table between Riedl and the business partners was to take over Airmotive, Inc., including all of its existing equipment. “We’re not even changing the name,” Voigt said. Riedl was not present at the meeting.
Larson told the group that the goal of the airport is to provide the best deal for the public — optimal service provided in a safe and professional way.
The discussion led Jacobson to move that the committee recommend to the airport commission a new updated five-year lease and approval of the change of ownership. Larson added that he felt that the decision would be in the best interest of the airport long-term.
“I’m not super happy with it, but for the longer term, I think it’s better for the FBO and the airport,” Larson said.
The motion was supported in a 2-1 vote with Commissioner Czezcok opposing the motion.
“I’m not against you guys,” Czezcok told Voigt and Dondelinger. “I’m just not totally comfortable with the decision.”
Czezcok said he felt that because the airport commission represents a public entity providing space for a private business, every interested party should be given the same opportunity.
“By moving forward with this motion, I just don’t see that as being the case,” Czeczok said.
The airport commission will meet at 9:30 a.m. Thursday at the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport.
SARAH NELSON KATZENBERGER may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5879.