Cape Girardeau city officials express relief at end of Commander eviction process

Thursday, October 13, 2011
Lt. Jerry Bledsoe, left, and Capt. Gregg Ourth with the Scott County Sheriff's Department watch as a man from Dan's Key and Lock Shop changes the locks on the main entrance of an airport hanger during the eviction of Commander Premier Wednesday morning, October 12, 2011 at the Cape Girardeau Regional Airport. (Laura Simon)

Mayor Harry Rediger's immediate response was one word: "Finally."

After nine months of working through an often frustrating legal process, Cape Girardeau officials were -- yes, finally -- successful Wednesday in kicking Commander Premier Aircraft Corp. out of a city-owned airport hangar.

"I'm pleased to call the building ours now," Rediger said. "The next step is to deal with the equipment that is left behind. But we took one big step forward by having control of that building."

Three Scott County Sheriff's Department officers, including Sheriff Rick Walter, accompanied Cape Girardeau city attorney Eric Cunningham and airport manager Bruce Loy to the Cape Girardeau Regional Airport hangar shortly after 9 a.m. Wednesday.

Only one Commander employee, vice president of operations Carl Gull, was present, and he was seen walking out of the building carrying his coffee and a few papers before getting into his car and driving off.

The owner of Dan's Key and Lock Shop then went about the work of changing the six exterior locks. As the locksmith worked, Loy, Cunningham, Walter and two deputies looked around the 52,000-square-foot hangar that Commander hadn't made a payment on since December 2007.

Rows of equipment and tools remained in the massive facility, and one airplane was visible on the tarmac just outside the building's bay doors.

Later, city officials said they were glad this was behind them.

Council member John Voss called Wednesday's events unfortunate but necessary.

"The last thing we want to do is stand in the way of any business being successful," he said. "... We've tolerated it for far too long, and it's time for us to take action on what's owed to the city and that's what we're trying to do."

Commander company president Greg Walker did not return phone calls seeking comment. The company largely hasn't returned calls since its relationship soured with the city.

While city leaders have been grousing for years about Commander's inability to pay rent, the eviction process actually didn't begin until February. That's when the city gave the company 60 days to make back payments of $827,000 or to vacate the premises. 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 began Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings, which temporarily put a halt to the eviction. Judges in Texas and later Benton, Mo., ruled the eviction could proceed in Cape Girardeau's case because it had started the process before the bankruptcy filing.

But Scott County Judge Scott Horman frustrated city officials again when he granted a temporary stay of execution on the eviction, based on a Commander motion asking the judge to set aside the city's default judgment. But Horman attached a $140,000 bond requirement that was due Tuesday. When Commander failed to pay that, Horman ordered that the eviction could proceed Wednesday.

And it did.

City manager Scott Meyer also said he was glad the eviction was behind them. The process took longer than anyone expected, he said.

Now, other questions have arisen, Meyer said: What will happen with the equipment, how much of the city's losses will be recouped and how long will it take to find a new tenant for a facility that has now been home to two failed airplane manufacturers?

"Hopefully, we can continue to move through the bankruptcy and get these questions answered and move on," Meyer said. "There are still a lot of moving pieces, and we hope that those moving pieces stop and when the bankruptcy court disposes of the assets, we will get some of the proceeds. We're just ready to move forward."

smoyers@semissourian.com

388-3642

Pertinent address:

Cape Girardeau Regional Airport, Cape Girardeau, MO

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