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City grudgingly agrees to look at potential retail value of airport land

What is the Detroit Lakes/Becker County Airport worth? What is the land it sits on worth? What would that land be worth developed and sold to businesses?

Those are a few of the questions the city of Detroit Lakes is looking into and will take to the county and airport commission for discussion.

Alderman Ron Zeman has requested the city look into the property and see what it would be worth if sold to retail big box-type businesses, expanding Detroit Lakes. He said the reason he is bringing up the issue now is because last week, airport manager Darrell Lowe quit.

"It's apparent it's tough for these guys to make a living out there," he said, saying several men have worked as airport managers in the last few years.

He added that the city and county should look at possibly moving the airport out of the city and selling the land for retail. Alderman James Hannon said he agrees.

"Maybe it's the first step to moving the airport," he said. "This has never been addressed before."

"That's the future growth (of Detroit Lakes) out there," Zeman said.

Audience member Dave Brainard said if the city was going to look into land value, it should look forward to what the land could be worth developed, not just what the county assessor has it listed as, because, he said, appraisals tell the history of what the land is worth, not the future.

The idea met some opposition.

It's no secret the city has long discussed whether to move the airport or add onto the runway, hoping to attract larger planes and more business.

City Administrator Rich Grabow said when looking at the retail value of the land, the group must look at the economic impact the airport has on the city as well.

As Zeman pushed the idea of assessment and moving the airport, a visibly irritated Grabow replied, "I'll tell you what the problem is, it's Darrell. Darrell Lowe ruined 20 years of business out there."

Lowe purchased the airport's fixed base operation in October of 2005, running it as Beartooth Flight Center. City officials have more than once expressed disappointment with how Lowe was handling the operation, saying his customer service, in particular, left something to be desired.

"There's not a shred of truth to it," Lowe said via telephone from Montana on Friday. "They declared war on me the first day I got there." He declined to comment further for this story.

The new fixed base operator at the airport is Mark Bergen.

Mayor Larry Buboltz said he agreed the land and value of the airport should be looked at since the issue keeps coming up every year. He said the three entities -- city, county, and airport commission -- should then sit down and talk about where to go from there.

But without spending money to hire someone to look at the potential of the land as retail, City Finance Officer Lou Guzek was ordered to contact the county assessor to determine the value of the land.

The city finance committee plans to take a look at the values next month.