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Continued: Clipped wings for the American Wings Air Museum

  • Article by: PAUL LEVY , Star Tribune
  • Last update: June 30, 2009 - 11:33 PM

The American Wings Air Museum at the Anoka County-Blaine Airport has until the end of July to sell its building, pay the $50,000 it owes the Metropolitan Airports Commission or face eviction.

"I know I want the museum at that airport, and I believe the MAC does, too," said Andy Westerberg, a MAC commissioner, but also a Blaine resident. "That museum is an incredible asset. I hope we can somehow work this out."

The museum, a nonprofit, owns its building, but not the land its on. Until 2006, the museum was paying the MAC $1,400 a month in rent. Coupled with $2,500 heating bills during winter months, the museum, which is open only weekends, struggled to get by, said Don Larson, a lifetime member of the museum.

But in 2006, the museum, which previously paid less monthly rent than a storage tenant, was reclassified as commercial space, Larson said. Suddenly, the rent jumped to $4,700 a month.

"We're a nonprofit," said Stan Rosand, a member of the museum board. "I can't raise that kind of money."

As the museum fell behind in its rent, the pressure continued to mount and spread. The local branch of the Sea Cadets, an organization sponsored by the Navy League of the U.S. Navy for teens, worries that it's losing a home and sponsor.

"The museum is home for our unit," said Paul Le Vvintre, executive director of the Poseidon Division of Sea Cadets. "Our kids get to work on the aircraft, they get a feel for the history, and sit side by side with people who know all about flight.

"The museum has given us access to conference rooms, has been a direct sponsor for us and has taken care of this unit the last five years. And now they're taking away the building?"

The museum agreed to sell the building to a buyer the MAC recommended, Twin Cities Aviation, an air maintenance outfit. But museum officials never signed a purchase agreement, with the hope that the MAC would reinstate the museum's lease at a lesser amount, Larson said.

At the last commission meeting, Randy Lapic, the museum's accountant, reiterated that the museum was not blaming the MAC for increasing its rent and for having to sell the building, a MAC spokesperson said.

Larson said museum officials even contacted Gov. Tim Pawlenty, asking for help. But Pawlenty's office sent a written reply, suggesting that if the museum owed as much as $50,000, the MAC had the right to shut its doors if necessary, Larson said.

Paul Levy • 612-673-4419

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