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Cape Girardeau officials look for other options for Commander deal
Cape Girardeau officials say they have been patient with an investor who wants to take over Commander Premier Aircraft Corp., but with the bills racking up -- and no deal imminent -- they have begun looking at other options.
"I guess I approach it as a business decision," said city manager Scott Meyer. "It doesn't hurt us to be open at all to this deal being done. But I think we wouldn't be responsible to taxpayers if we didn't look to find another deal."
The deal with Ronald Strauss, founder of Aero-Base Inc., would include paying the city's outstanding debt for the company's production building at the Cape Girardeau Regional Airport. While Strauss has promised for months that a deal was forthcoming, he has been unable to secure funding.
Meanwhile, the city continues to pay the debt. In fact, the city paid $61,380 Wednesday, which was on interest only, as one of its semiannual payments, said city finance director John Richbourg.
The next payment on the principal will be April 1 and will be $201,380. In the past year, the city has paid $261,000 in payments. The company has made only eight of the 51 scheduled payments, he said.
Mitch Robinson is executive director of Cape Girardeau Area Magnet, an economic development organization that is working with the city on a possible replacement.
"Mr. Strauss has had a lot of opportunities," Robinson said. "For whatever reason, he has not been able to come forward with the funding. Hopefully, he'll be able to do that, but we need a two-pronged approach."
Robinson said he is developing a list of potential companies that may be interested in operating on the site. But he is limited by restrictions, which require that any company must be aviation related and must be a manufacturing firm.
"So, at this point, it's a short list," Robinson said. "The question is who in the industry is growing right now. Those are the companies we have got to find."
A deal with Strauss has been pending since July 2009, when Strauss announced his intentions of purchasing the company. Strauss did not return phone calls Wednesday seeking comment.
Strauss, a Montreal-based retired banker, has pursued an international financing deal to support his purchase of Commander. In March, Strauss told the Southeast Missourian that a deal was about complete and that he only needed signatures.
Commander Premier Aircraft Corp was founded in 2005 when 50 owners of the single-engine propeller aircraft purchased the parts, stock and name of a defunct Oklahoma aircraft company. They moved the operations into the 52,000-square-foot building at the airport that had been bought with city revenue bonds for a company called Renaissance Aircraft.
Commander was intended to do major overhauls of existing Commander airplanes and build new models. While the repair shop has been operating, no airplanes have been built and the 40 to 50 jobs never materialized.
The company was given incentives by the city to locate here, including free rent for six months and reduced payments until January 2010. The company was unable to meet even the reduced rent.
Robinson said he had been reluctant to aggressively pursue another deal while Strauss was promising that his deal was close.
"We have to get the word out in the aviation industry to find somebody looking for this sort of building," Robinson said. "Everybody is at that point. We have to start moving forward."
Meyer said the city hasn't given up on Strauss but that it has to do something.
"I just don't know," he said of Strauss' chances of securing funding. "I believe Mr. Strauss believes he will get the money. I believe he believes it. But the bottom line is the payments have to be made."
Cape Girardeau Regional Airport, Cape Girardeau, MO