Friday, December 07, 2012

Flight museum expects to leave Bellingham over disputed lease

BELLINGHAM - Heritage Flight Museum Executive Director Greg Anders said he is looking for a new home for the museum's collection of vintage aircraft because the Port of Bellingham has reneged on an earlier promise of a $1-a-year lease for a new museum building on airport property.

"We have lost our future," Anders said.

A press release issued Friday, Dec. 7, by the museum seemed to indicate that the port had done something to force the museum to leave.

"PORT SQUEEZING FLIGHT MUSEUM OUT," the release's headline said. Then it quoted Anders as saying, "The Port of Bellingham has officially rescinded the favorable land lease terms with which we were attracted to move to Bellingham back in 2001."

Port Aviation Director Dan Zenk expressed surprise at the museum's announcement. Zenk said he had last discussed the museum's future with Anders in August. At that time, he gave Anders a letter from port attorney Frank Chmelik outlining what Chmelik portrayed as legal impediments to offering the museum a piece of airport property for next to nothing.

Museum officials took Chmelik's letter and said they would do their own research and reply, Zenk said. The only reply was the press release accusing the port of squeezing them out.

"The ball's in their court," Zenk said. "I am absolutely shocked and bewildered at their approach."

Anders said he wasn't sure how much longer Heritage Flight Museum would be in Bellingham. He said he has been having preliminary discussions with other airports that have shown interest, and the museum could move out of town as early as spring 2013, although he said that was unlikely.

Zenk said the museum is not a direct port tenant. The museum is housed in a hangar owned by Apogee LLC, a company owned by Greg Anders' father, Bill, the former Apollo astronaut who founded the museum in 1996 before its move to Bellingham five years later.

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