Eviction of Commander from Cape airport can proceed

Tuesday, September 27, 2011
Commander Premier Aircraft Corp. is still operating in the 52,000-square-foot municipally-owned hangar at the Cape Girardeau Regional Airport on Sept. 26, 2011. (Fred Lynch)

BENTON, Mo. -- A judge gave Cape Girardeau officials the go-ahead on Monday to evict Commander Premier Aircraft Corp. from city-owned property that the bankrupt company hasn't paid rent on since 2007.

With Commander a no-show in court, Judge Scott Horman granted the city a default judgment that gives city leaders the authority to have Commander physically removed from the Cape Girardeau Regional Airport hangar as soon as Oct. 6.

And that's exactly what they intend to do, said city attorney Eric Cunningham, who represented the city in court Monday along with St. Louis lawyer Daniel Vogel.

"The judge's ruling basically allows us to take possession of the property and put them out," Cunningham said. "That's our intention."

A legally mandated 10-day waiting period must expire first, making Oct. 6 the date Commander can be forcibly removed, Cunningham said. The Scott County Sheriff's Department will be asked to accompany someone from the city to the property to remove them, he said.

"We're not giving them any more time," Cunningham said. "'You've got to get out, and if you don't get out, then they can put you out.'"

Calls and emails to Commander's local office and to company executives went unreturned Monday. But former Commander president and stockholder Joel Hartstone said recently the company is finished trying to build airplanes in Cape Girardeau.

The ruling Monday appears to be the final court hurdle the city has to clear, following six months of legal wranglings to evict Commander from the 52,000-square-foot hangar it has occupied at the Cape Girardeau Regional Airport since 2006.

Commander still owes $827,000 in unpaid rent and in five years the city only collected $94,000, according to city finance director John Richbourg.

A bankruptcy judge in Tyler, Texas, in August allowed the city to try to evict Commander, but the company's debts are still uncollectable because they fall under Chapter 11 protection, Cunningham said. Commander sent no representation to that hearing in Texas either.

The company's equipment is still at the Commander hangar, but Commander owes at least $3.4 million to its creditors, according to court records, and it is unclear whether the city will ever recoup its losses. The equipment, as part of bankruptcy, could be sold to pay off creditors, but Cunningham said he didn't know where the city's priority for repayment would fall.

Commander is the second airplane manufacturer that occupied the building before filing for bankruptcy. Commander replaced Renaissance Aircraft and city officials said that Commander would ultimately create 100 jobs and manufacture 30 airplanes a year.

But the plans were never realized. Not a single plane was built at the facility, and only a handful of jobs were created to basically operate a service center.

Company executives blamed a struggling world financial market and an inability to find a buyer to invest more capital into the company.

Commander began missing payments and then the payments stopped altogether nearly five years ago. In February, the city gave Commander 60 days to make back payments. When that didn't happen, the city terminated the lease May 16 and demanded that the property be vacated 30 days later. On the 31st day, Commander filed for bankruptcy.

The company that had such a ceremonious entrance now is facing a decidedly unceremonious exit with a likely scenario of sheriff's deputies escorting personnel from the property and the locks being changed.

"We didn't want it to come to this," Mayor Harry Rediger said Monday. "That's one of the reasons for the delay. After years of trying, unfortunately, it has come to this. We're just going to be real pleased to get our building back."



Pertinent address:

141 New Madrid St., Benton, MO

Cape Girardeau Regional Airport, Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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