Airport deal sinks under economy

Published on Thu, Apr 2, 2009 by Pat Grubb

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Plans to redevelop the former Blaine airport fell victim to the global economic slowdown on Tuesday, March 31 after the developers informed Blaine city officials they were letting their purchase agreement lapse. In doing so, Dr. Patrick Rooney and Tom Hayes forfeited $125,000 in deposit money they had given the city to seal the purchase agreement.

The two men had agreed to purchase the airport property for $6 million in June of last year. In an interview Tuesday, Rooney said they were letting Tuesday’s deadline expire “for obvious reasons.” When they agreed to buy the property last year, “no one, not the feds, not the state, not the city and not us, knew what lay in store for the economy,” he said.

Rooney said they had received a lot of interest in developing the property last spring but “in August and September, one by one, interested partners started dropping off the table. Tom and I have decided the return on investment has become unrealistic. It’s true, this purchase couldn’t have been done at a worse time.”

Rooney went to pains to express his gratitude to city staff and officials. “They have been great to work with, we were given a lot of co-operation,” he said.

City manager Gary Tomsic expressed regret at the turn of affairs. “We are disappointed that the partnership was not able to close on the purchase of the airport.

“The partners are successful business owners who have the best interest in the community at heart. They assembled a team to assist in the development and marketing of the site and expended a substantial amount of their own money to do so. When we and they entered into the sales-purchase agreement it was a different world. The timing turned out to be terrible for both of us,” Tomsic said.

He added, “This is a very valuable piece of property. Some people tend to judge the decision to close the airport by the amount of money the city will get from the sale and if that covers the cost of closing the airport. In fact, that is not where our attention should be focused. The long-term value of the airport property is on the jobs that will be created with new businesses in the community; new services that might be offered our citizens; local taxes that will be paid to support community wide services in the future. These benefits will far outweigh the money that we will net from the sale. This is where our focus should be.”

Saying he expected a lot of naysayers would make hay of the announcement, Rooney said he felt the city would still be able to benefit from the collapsed sale. “The city now has a binding site plan that we developed at our cost which means the city doesn’t have to sell it in one piece but can sell individual parcels at much higher prices.

“We also made a lot of progress on the storm water plan for the industrial area. Finally, we did a lot of marketing of the property through Blain Hardy and Associates. When the economy turns around, that property is already on the radar. Those [purchasers] will come back.”

Looking back, Rooney said, “It’s a tragedy. But we went into this with both eyes open. Our consolation is, I think we’re leaving the city in a good position. I’m convinced the revenue potential far outweighs the negative. I think the city will come out just fine on this.”