SOUTH ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Members of a nonprofit Minnesota group that maintains a collection of World War II-era planes are scrambling to find money for fire sprinklers for the hangar that houses the vintage exhibit.
Officials in South St. Paul have told the all-volunteer organization that it can no longer hold fundraisers in the hangar at Fleming Field or rent it out for events because the hangar lacks fire sprinklers, which could cost as much as $80,000.
The Minnesota Wing of the Commemorative Air Force has leased the hangar from the city since 1971.
Without the events, “it would be hard to pick up that kind of cash flow someplace else,” wing leader Amy Lauria told the St. Paul Pioneer Press. “They pay for our rent and aircraft operating expenses.”
Sen. James Metzen, DFL-South St. Paul, secured $150,000 in bonding money during last year’s legislative session for improvements to the 70-year-old hangar. But city officials decided against taking the money after learning about rules tied to it. Under those rules, the hangar would have to remain a WWII museum in perpetuity, even if the wing were to disband.
“The council has no interest in possibly running (a museum),” City Administrator Steve King said. “That’s way out of our comfort zone.”
The group already has booked about 20 private parties, including several weddings, for this spring, summer and fall.
After some neighbors raised concerns about possible noise, the city granted the wing a conditional-use permit with one major condition: The large hangar door has to be closed during an event.
But the building has no air conditioning, said Jeff Sheridan, a wing member from Burnsville.
“I can assure you that even if you could talk your bride into being married in such a place, you could not talk her into keeping the door closed,” Sheridan said. “There’s no climate control. All this means no business for us.”
King, the city administrator, said even if the group succeeds in getting a grant for sprinklers, it still would need to ask the city to amend the permit to allow the door to be open during events.
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