Duluth Angry as NWA Walks Away From $46M Maintenance Base

The publicly owned maintenance base, which once had more than 400 Northwest workers in Duluth, has been largely idle since September when the airline's mechanics went on strike.

In addition, the state would be obligated to pay principal and interest on some of the bonds if the lease is voided. This year, those payments totaled roughly $2 million.

Federal, state and city officials have looked into various possibilities for the site once Northwest leaves, and it's not an appealing picture. According to a market analysis done in determining the base's market value two years ago, there is no real local market for such a specialized facility, or at least no one who would pay even $14.5 million for the base.

Nationwide, the decommissioning of Air Force bases by the U.S. government in the late `90s glutted the market with hangar space, and the airline industry's financial problems continue to dampen demand.

The only major example of a maintenance and repair business taking on vacated space in recent years occurred in Indianapolis, in a former United Airlines facility.

"We have to be flexible," Bergson said. "If the city has to pay the rent, [to attract a new tenant] we will be very flexible. We'd entertain just about anything if we can get out from under the responsibility."

Government and private sector representatives say they are frustrated that they can't move ahead to try to attract a new occupant for the building.

"There are no jobs" at the base, said Sausen of the state Finance Department. "We know who does this [type of work] other than Northwest, and we're waiting. We don't have a facility to lease."

Rob West, CEO of the Area Partnership for Economic Expansion, a private business organization that has helped the city explore possibilities for the facility, said there is nothing more to be done until Northwest makes a decision.

"Where are we?" he said. "Nowhere."

Tony Kennedy contributed to this report. Terry Fiedler - 651-281-1166


1992: State agrees to bail out Northwest Airlines in exchange for an agreement that the airline will employ more workers at various locations in the state.

1996: Maintenance base completed at cost of $46 million; Northwest promises to employ at least 350 at the facility for 30 years.

June 1999: Employment reaches 418.

January 2003: 386 workers.

March 2003: More than 150 laid off.

September 2005: Base largely idled after mechanics strike.

September 2005: Northwest files for bankruptcy.

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