Financially troubled Renaissance Aircraft to leave Cape

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Unable to make bond and lease payments this month, struggling Renaissance Aircraft has abandoned plans to build airplanes at Cape Girardeau, ending a three-year business venture that was plagued by litigation and a lack of investors.

The company's attorney, Eric Rowe of Washington, D.C., said company president John Dearden planned to remove all of the company's equipment from the city-owned hangar within 30 days.

Rowe said Dearden plans to try to pay any debts he owes. "We are considering lots of options about the future," Rowe said. "The first and foremost thing is to make sure the people we have done business with are treated fairly."

Some former employees have said they are still owed money for work they performed at the hangar.

"He is in debt to me for several thousand dollars," said former employee Mark Perry of Delta.

"I don't fault the city," Perry said. "The city has bent over backwards to help him."

The closing of Renaissance Aircraft came after the company failed to make bond and lease payments totaling $61,210.17 by the Friday deadline set by the city council.

"It is terribly disappointing for both the city and Renaissance Air," Mayor Jay Knudtson said. "We wish Mr. Dearden the best of luck in his future endeavors."

Knudtson said city officials will seek to lease the hangar to another aviation manufacturer in order to generate income to pay the bonds.

The city sold $2.6 million in bonds to construct a hangar for Renaissance Aircraft and pay for the extension of water and sewer lines to serve the business. Ultimately, the city must make the bond payments if it can't find a new tenant for the hangar to pay the debt.

But city officials said they're optimistic about finding a new tenant. "The city has a building which we feel is extremely marketable," Knudtson said.

According to city attorney Eric Cunningham, the city has several options.

"We could sell the building. We could lease it to somebody else," he said. "It is not like there is a boondoggle that has happened. A building that is big and desirable and has utilities at the airport to some extent is going to be a drawing card."

While Renaissance Aircraft failed to meet the city's deadline, the city isn't obligated to make a bond payment until April, which, Cunningham said, gives city officials time to seek a new tenant.

The bond agreement requires the hangar to be leased to an aviation manufacturer.

Renaissance Aircraft relocated from Eastman, Ga., to Cape Girardeau in 2001 with promises of manufacturing hundreds of two-seater propeller planes a year and creating at least 200 jobs.

But the promises never materialized. The company was drained financially by a lengthy legal battle with the Don Luscombe Aviation History Foundation in Arizona. The foundation sued over Renaissance Aircraft's plan to manufacture the Luscombe 8F airplane.

Renaissance Aircraft eventually won the legal fight and the right to manufacture the plane, but it never could recover financially.

Dearden, who at one time had 20 employees, ended up laying off all his workers. At one point over the summer, the electricity was turned off at the hangar because of an unpaid utility bill.

mbliss@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 123

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