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.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Comments (10)
  1. Paul H. Krumrei says:

    What a bunch of political BS! These guys and gals are out there beating them selves up maintaining these planes and they want shut it down when it comes to events. BOO ST. PAUL Politics!

    1. SSP gal says:

      One, this isn’t St. Paul–it’s SOUTH SAINT PAUL, entirely different city! The neighbors who have voiced concerns over the noise are the SAME neighbors who gripe every year Kaposia Days takes place. Do they want these events shut down so they can live in quiet?

  2. Local417 says:

    I know quite a few unemployed Sprinkler Fitters that would LOVE the work! Go Local 417!

  3. T Mpls says:

    OMG – some “possible noise” coming from an airport??? Let’s shut the whole thing down. I agree this is just political horse hocky. Shut down the St Patrick’s Day parade and Winter Carnival while you’re at it. They carry “possible noise” as well. Oh – forbid traffic from I-94 as it “may cause noise”.

    For gawd sake, let these people have the use of their permit so they can raise the money needed to keep this open.

    My father served in the Pacific in WWII and absolutely “loved” to see the old planes when displayed each summer. They took him back to a place and time that changed his life – and permanently separated him from some dear friends and fellow soldiers. There is no price one could put on the feeling this gave him to revisit and remember. But to cause this trouble for “possible noise” ? He’d wonder what the #$*! he’d fought for.

    Such petty bickering. Grow up St Paul

    1. SSP gal says:

      It’s located at Fleming Field in South Saint Paul.

  4. GaryC says:

    City owns building. CAF has been paying to use the building since 1971. Now it is out of code. Should not the owner of said building bring it up to code including climate control?? What is the difference in noise level between a corporate jet and a good ol’ rock band? You had a grant, rewrite another one without restrictions! Politicians and neighborhood groups………grow up!

  5. Jessica says:

    This story is actually missing many details about how the Commemorative Air Force knew about potential problems in 2010 (namely the limitations of the conditional use permit) and didn’t notify any of the people that were booked to have events there. (Can be found in documents on the city of South St. Paul website). They continued to book events and accept deposits from people, but never notified anyone about the limitations of their conditional use permit that was issued in 2010. Not knowing about the documents on the city website, I inquired in February, and their “event planner” told me everything was fine. After I recently sent them another e-mail inquiring about rumored permit problems, they responded via e-mail telling us that they canceled our wedding and that we’d need to find another venue (3 months before our wedding).

    So now we have 3 months to find another wedding venue for 340 guests that we have already invited. We’ve already given deposits to several other vendors, had to contact guests and have them cancel hotel rooms, etc, etc. By the way, we still have not received our deposit back from the CAF..

    In my opinion, there are other worthy organizations preserving WWII history that are much more deserving of your support.

  6. Concerned CAF Member says:

    The CAF did know of potential problems when we received our CUP in 2010, but that was late December 2010. We were told that there was a possibility to change the requirement for the doors being closed, and applied for an amendment. At that time, earlier private events were given notice that it could be a problem. We booked the events we did with the understanding that funding was available for the sprinkler system. When our funding was suddenly dropped, we followed up with the city and were told we would be given no variance. We immediately let all the private events who had booked with us know, and have sent out refunds for the deposits. We are very sorry to have to cancel any of these events, and did our absolute best to find a solution to the situation. Jessica, we apologize and hope that you can find an appropriate venue.

    As far as support, we hope our failings to accomplish what we needed to as far as private events does not reflect badly on our mission, which is to educate using aircraft and artifacts from WWII.

    1. Jessica says:

      So you admit that the CAF knew about the problem (of the door being closed) in December 2010, but didn’t notify any clients because they thought they could fix the problem in time. Bonding money and sprinkler system aside, that in itself is a big act of negligence on behalf of the CAF for not notifying their renting parties that they might not be allowed to leave the hangar door open for their event. For a July wedding (in a building with no air conditioning), that in itself would have been a deal breaker for us. You mentioned that the deposit has been returned, but we have not received anything yet.

      You were basically working off an assumption (that the sprinkler money would be available, and that you would be able to work with the city to change the condition about the door remaining closed), but both of these assumptions ended up wrong. As a result, you have cost us (and 20 other parties) thousands of dollars and much stress. In my opinion, the CAF should have found other APPROPRIATE options for people’s weddings (that were available for their date, hold the same amount of people, etc). Among the suggestions I received from the “event planner” at the CAF were a site in Wisconsin (we’re getting married in Minneapolis) and a Catholic church (we are not Catholic), and several venues that don’t hold the number of people that we had already invited. They did no research to see if their suggestions were available for our date or held the same number of people. They basically said “Here’s a list, good luck researching this”.

      For anyone reading this, it is my opinion that there are many other worthy organizations working to educate and preserve WWII history that are much more deserving of your support, that haven’t caused this kind of devastation to people.

  7. WWII Lover says:

    Jessica–you do not have your info correct. We were only “officially” notified within the last month, by City letter, that events could not be held at the hanger.We knew there was a possibility – we had hope that we could work something out with the City—but that did not happen.. I can understand your disappointment and frustration–and your comments have been forwarded to the proper CAF contact. You are not the only bride or class reunion groups that had to change their party locations. We had to cancel many events that were to be held in 2011 because of this “snag”.

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