Whose business is it that John Riedl Jr. decided to sell Airmotive, Inc.?
The Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport Commission decided with a 5 to 1 vote Thursday that it’s not theirs.
After some discussion and input from the public, the commission voted to grant a five-year lease extension to Airmotive, Inc.’s buyers Chris Kurtzman, D.J. Dondelinger and Jeff Voigt pending the final sale transfer of Airmotive, Inc. from Riedl to the new owners.
“That’s his own business whether he sells or not,” Commissioner Don Jacobson told the airport commission.
The Airport Commission’s Contracts and Leases committee met Monday to discuss granting an extension to the current lease and decided, with a few changes made to the existing lease, it would be in the best interest of the airport to allow Riedl to sell to whomever he chooses, and to grant the new owner of Airmotive, Inc. an updated five-year lease. Jacobson shared with the commission the committee’s discussion about the lease including the competency, experience, financial stability and viability of Airmotive, Inc. under the new ownership.
“There is no reasonable excuse for not granting the lease,” Jacobson said.
Jacobson pointed out to the committee that the FBO lease is non-exclusive and if at anytime another business would like to seek a lease opportunity they have the freedom to do so.
Airport Commission Chairman Andy Larson told the commission the decision to grant the lease extension was not unanimous.
Commissioner Jeff Czeczok expressed concerns Monday about granting a lease extension and voted against presenting the decision on the lease agreement to the commission in Thursday’s meeting. 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. Czeczok told the commission Thursday there were a number of reasons why he voted no. Czeczok said he has heard from concerned citizens who feel an opportunity for another business to take on the FBO lease is limited because Riedl has already been in talks over who he will sell his business to.
“The current owner is essentially in the position to determine who is going to operate the FBO,” Czeczok said. “Without the lease extension, the proposed buyers were not interested in buying (Airmotive, Inc.).”
Czeczok questioned the changes in the proposed buyers, which initially included Chris Kurtzman and Rob Adair. Questions about Adair’s level of experience led Kurtzman to include Park Rapids Aviation owner Jeff Voigt in lieu of Adair. Most recently, business owner D.J. Dondelinger has joined the group of buyers. “There seems to be a lot of people coming and going here,” Czeczok said.
Czeczok questioned the buyers’ financial report and availability to be immediately present to operate the FBO.
“I think we’re making a mistake in serving the public,” said Czeczok of why he voted no on the proposal. “I just think we need to look at all the potential out there.”
Aiken Aviation owner and operator Adam Forsberg spoke to the commission in support of the proposed buyers of Airmotive, Inc. Forsberg told the commission that according to the FAA, any airport that receives grant money has to be open to competition.
“If there wasn’t competition everyone would be driving a Ford,” Forsberg said. “You’re making this more difficult than this needs to be.”
Forsberg pointed out that a lease includes building and space for a business to occupy. “You want an FBO in here that can service you,” Forsberg said. “That’s what you have here in these guys.”
Forsberg pointed out that Airmotive, Inc. is his competition that the sale is not in his best interest as a business, but he still supports them.
Kurtzman, Dondelinger, Voigt and Riedl were present at the meeting but did not address the commission.
Commissioner Beth Pfingsten motioned that the commission go ahead with the recommendation contingent on the sale of Airmotive, Inc. and the required proof in insurance from the buyers. Pfingsten told the commission she felt the sale of the business was a non-issue comparing it to the sale of the Wings cafe in September.
“He has a right to do that,” Pfingsten said of Riedl. “It’s creating a new lease with new owners. They have the right to sell their business.”
Commissioner Kevin Goedker said he was in support of moving forward with the lease.
“I try to look at it as, ‘What’s in the best interest of the airport,’” he said. Goedker said it was his opinion that the options are to make a commitment to an FBO now or wait a year for the lease to expire and hope someone still wants the lease. Goedker told the commission that the city council would have preferred to make no decision at this time and wait for the lease to expire.
Commissioner Rachel Reabe Nystrom expressed her support for the motion to extend the lease because she felt it was the best option for everyone.
“We need to do what’s best for the citizens,” she said. “Thankfully what is good for the airport, is very good for the citizens.
“We’re trying to do the best for the community.”
Nystrom pointed out the history the Riedl family has had with the airport saying that the Riedl family has served the Brainerd Airport “with distinction”. Nystrom also addressed the potential concerns of the current employees of Airmotive, Inc.
“It’s hard when things change,” Nystrom said. “I understand that people are nervous about that.”
Two friendly amendments were suggested for the lease. The first, involving the fee imposed on late rent payment, was adjusted from a flat rate of $15 to eight percent or “the maximum the law will allow”. The second amendment requires the FBO owner to present a annual statement to the commission.
The commission voted 5 to 1 to approve the five-year lease to the new proposed owners of Airmotive, Inc. Czeczok stood by his no vote from Monday.
SARAH NELSON KATZENBERGER may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5879.