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Archive for Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Aviation company deal not yet landed

City commissioners came close Tuesday to signing a lease allowing an helicopter company to move into the city and moved forward on plans to purchase a west Lawrence laboratory building.

January 13, 2010

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Even city commissioners can face a delay at the airport.

Commissioners on Tuesday evening delayed giving final approval to a proposed deal with an Ottawa-based aviation company that wants to move five high-paying jobs and build a new $700,000 hangar and office building at the Lawrence Municipal Airport.

“But it is a great project and we’re going to get there,” Mayor Rob Chestnut said.

Commissioners held up on signing a lease that would allow Hawkeye Helicopter to rent city ground at the airport for its new aviation building until city staff could place a provision in the lease that makes it more difficult for the company to request a future property tax break on the proposed $700,000 hangar.

Company officials, though, said the new twist likely wouldn’t jeopardize the project.

“We’re confident we can get it worked out,” said J.D. Scott, an owner of Hawkeye, which uses helicopters to do aerial inspections of rights-of-way for utility companies.

Scott said he’s still hopeful to have the new building under construction by late summer. Commissioners were told that the company’s plans are to move at least five employees to Lawrence, mainly pilots and mechanics, with each making more than $50,000 per year. The potential to add up to 10 more jobs over the next five years also exists if the company’s business grows as expected.

“Our company plays a pretty big role in helping the utility companies make sure their infrastructure is sound, and that is an area that is receiving a lot of attention right now,” Scott said.

Commissioners sent the lease back for more work after city staff members said they discovered the lease could allow for the company to make a request of the state board of tax appeals to exempt the property from taxation by considering the building “essential to the function of the airport.” That scenario was not determined to be likely, but commissioners wanted language in the lease that would protect the city from that situation because the city is making about $135,000 worth of improvements at the airport to accommodate the project.

Those improvements are in addition to about $2 million worth of work to extend water and sewer service to the airport, which commissioners said should open the airport up to other aviation development.

Other business

On Tuesday, commissioners also:

• Agreed to sell $2.9 million worth of bonds to purchase the former Oread Labs building in west Lawrence. The building, which will be jointly owned with the county, will be used to attract promising bioscience companies to Lawrence. Part of the building also will be leased to Lawrence-based CritiTech, a bioscience company that was contemplating leaving Lawrence.

Commissioners did change one part of the deal. Commissioners agreed to eliminate an option-to-purchase clause that would have allowed the Lawrence-Douglas County Bioscience Authority to potentially purchase the building from the city and county for less than its fair market value. The local bioscience authority will serve as the manager of the building, but commissioners said the option-to-purchase clause added unnecessary complications to the deal.

• Directed city staff to prepare a report on how city operations and neighborhoods could be affected by any potential closing of a neighborhood school. Commissioners Mike Amyx and Aron Cromwell both said they wanted information so that the City Commission could potentially offer its opinion to the school district on the subject of school closings.

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