KISD Buys Museum Hangar

July 1, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — Kent Intermediate School District is set to buy the hangar at Gerald R. Ford Airport originally intended for a military air, land and sea museum, which never came to fruition. The Kent County Aeronautics Board approved on Wednesday a new ground lease agreement between the board and KISD for rental of the hangar site on Ross Drive near the airport terminal.

The action gives KISD the means to expand its popular aviation maintenance instructional program there.

The Military Preservation Society and KISD formed a partnership to build the hangar facility, and KISD paid for half of the construction cost. They broke ground on Phase I in September 2003 after nearly two years of delays. The project was plagued by financial problems almost from the get-go.

MMPS paid the airport $500,000 upfront to lease the site, which the airport used to make a taxiway to the facility. Phase I involved construction of KISD’s Kent Career Technical Center Aviation Mechanics Hangar, which was completed four years ago. KISD occupied half of the facility and the museum occupied the other half. The school district has been subleasing its half of the hangar from MMPS since then.

Also planned for Phase I was construction of an MMPS Restoration Hangar that would have temporarily housed museum offices and exhibits. Phase II was to be devoted to the building of the actual museum, which was to feature a 44,000-square-foot display hangar, research library, 70-seat theater, gift shop, café and a conference room.

But the money never materialized to keep the dream alive, and MMPS fell into arrears on its loan payments. 

“They never got to the museum because they ended up having problems with fund-raising, and that really started from day one,” recalled Deputy Aeronautics Director Phil Johnson. The creditors that loaned MMPS the money for the museum started calling in the notes to get them repaid, Johnson said.  The new lease agreement between the aeronautics board and KISD went into effect yesterday. The annual rental amount is $5,310, the same amount KISD had been paying under its sublease agreement with MMPS.

“The KISD aviation mechanics program has been so successful that the school district was very willing to help MMSP with its financial troubles by taking over the rest of the building,” Johnson noted. “It gives them a chance to expand the program and accept more students.” 

KISD now owns the building and has a direct lease with the airport for the land. The lease is good through 2023. At that time, ownership of the facility will revert to the airport, which is just the way it works in the airport business, Johnson said: The building ownership reverts to the airport when the lease is up simply because it’s built on airport land.

“When folks come and build facilities on our land and put their money into it, we give them a long enough term to amortize their costs, and at the end of that, we retain any improvements on our land and we negotiate with them to lease the building if they want to,” Johnson explained. “If they don’t want to, we go out and entertain proposals for someone new to lease the building. 

“What we do then is work with the tenant,” Johnson said. “If they want to remain in the building, then at that point they will owe us not only a ground lease but a building lease, as well, because it will be our building.”

Board member Richard Vander Molen said KISD’s purchase of the hangar is another example of something that didn’t go exactly as planned and now is being worked out.

“It appears that all the parties involved have come together to make this work, Vander Molen commented. “This could have been a much more difficult situation than it turned out to be, and I think everybody is pretty happy about how it turned out.”

Board Chairman John Van Laar noted that the MMPS is still intact and still meeting regularly. BJ 

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