Cape asks bankruptcy judge to permit Commander eviction

Thursday, August 11, 2011
Two aircraft are undergoing repairs in the Commander Premier Aircraft Corp. building Wednesday, April 13, 2011 at Cape Girardeau Regional Airport. (Fred Lynch)

Calling the company "trespassers" in court documents, Cape Girardeau officials are asking a bankruptcy judge in Texas to allow them to evict Commander Premier Aircraft Corp. from city-owned property at the airport.

A hearing has been set for 9:30 a.m. Aug. 23 before Judge Bill Parker, who will consider the city's request.

"It would allow us to proceed with eviction," said city attorney Eric Cunningham. "We're hopeful that the judge will agree with us."

The city has hired Michael Gazette, a lawyer in Tyler, Texas, which is where the financially strapped Commander is headquartered and where it filed for bankruptcy protection June 16.

Gazette filed a motion on the city's behalf in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court of the Eastern District of Texas asking for relief from the automatic stay that blocked all creditors from collecting from Commander once it was granted bankruptcy protection. Commander's creditors say they are owed at least $3.5 million.

Cunningham said he did not have an exact dollar amount on how much Gazette has been paid but said he makes $275 an hour.

In a court filing that Gazette prepared, the city points out that Commander was notified in writing Feb. 15 that it had defaulted on rental payments that had been accruing since the last payment was made in December 2007. The city has said Commander owes the city about $1.2 million.

In February, the city gave Commander 60 days to make back payments for the 52,000-square-foot hangar the company has occupied since October 2005. When that didn't happen, the city terminated the lease May 16 and demanded that the property at Cape Girardeau Regional Airport be vacated no less than 30 days later.

On the 31st day, Commander commenced bankruptcy proceedings.

Commander continues in "possession of the premises as trespassers," the filing concludes, " ... without any right to possess and use it."

The filing also claims that Commander failed to maintain insurance on the hangar, which was a stipulation of the agreement.

Commander executives did not return phone calls Wednesday seeking comment, but a release posted on its website last month says the company is continuing to look for a buyer or a partner as part of restructuring.

In the release, Commander president Greg Walker blamed the company's failure on the economy. A deal with potential buyer Ronald Strauss, a Canadian financier, never materialized and now they're looking for another buyer or a new partner to launch operations, Walker said.

Walker said he hopes a "new Commander" will emerge as the economy recovers.

The release also mentions the hangar situation.

"The city had threatened an eviction action, but they recognize that the Chapter 11 filing prohibits their taking any action while the company works to close a sale or arrange a financial partner for a reorganization plan," Walker said.

Commander is still operating a service center at the airport hangar, and a small number, perhaps as few as three, employees still work there.

City manager Scott Meyer said the attorneys are deciding on the best option to take. But he said the goal is to have Commander out of the hangar so that a new tenant or buyer can be found.

"We're continuing to market the building as best we can," Meyer said. "But the building is still occupied by their [Commander's] stuff. There is interest, and we're replying to anybody who's interested."


Pertinent address:

Cape Girardeau Regional Airport, Cape Girardeau, MO

110 N. College Ave., Tyler, Texas

Map of pertinent addresses

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