By Brian Charles

The countdown has started. The Big Bear Airport district board approved a resolution of necessity to acquire the terminal building through eminent domain during its Aug. 6 meeting.

The resolution doesn’t begin the eminent domain process, said Brad Pierce, attorney for the airport. It only puts the parties involved on a time clock. At any time during the next six months, the district can start the eminent domain condemnation process, he said. Pierce believes it won’t get that far, and a deal is coming soon, he said.

The terminal building is stuck in a quagmire involving the airport district, Evergreen Properties and Barry Wang, owner of Mandarin Garden Restaurant.

Wang is in escrow to buy the building from Evergreen. The purchase assures his restaurant a long-term lease and allows him to complete overdue maintenance, Wang’s attorney Chris McIntire said.

Deferred maintenance is the driving force behind the airport district’s desire to purchase the building, said Jay Obernolte, airport board president. The airport district plans to drop $125,000 in repairs into the building.

The terminal building has been at the center of controversy since its construction in 1981. Evergreen agreed to construct the building and in return secured a 65-year ground lease from the airport district for $1.

The difficulties didn’t end after the airport district purchased its portion of the terminal building in 2003. That portion extends from the main entrance east to the pilot’s lounge. The building doesn’t have a legal condominium map, which details what the district bought, Pierce said.

With no one sure who can buy what, all three sides spent a month trying to hammer out a deal. Evergreen wants to sell the property and Wang doesn’t mind the airport district owning the terminal as long as he gets a five-year lease, McIntire said. The airport offered Wang a one-year lease.

Airport board member Gary Steube said the district didn’t offer a long term lease because it wasn’t sure what the space could earn on the commercial rental market. The one-year lease allows the airport district to evaluate the market and come to a price on a long-term lease next year, he said.

Wang also wants a below market value lease. If Wang bought the property from Evergreen, the restaurant’s rent would be between $1 and $100 until 2046 when the ground lease expires, McIntire said. Wang is forfeiting that luxury by not buying the building, McIntire said. Without a long-term lease Wang is unsure about the future of his restaurant, McIntire said.

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