Following its next “Fly Day,” the Heritage Flight Museum’s days in Bellingham will be numbered.
Directors of the nonprofit museum, which is dedicated to preserving and flying historic military aircraft, announced on Thursday, Oct. 31, that they plan to move to the Skagit Regional Airport, in a hangar located at 15053 Crosswind Drive in Burlington.
After a final Fly Day at the Bellingham International Airport on Saturday, Nov. 16—the museum uses the monthly events to showcase aircraft and other artifacts in its collection—the organization will effectively shut down as staff and volunteers begin packing up and moving to their new home, said Kate Simmons, the museum’s director of programs.
“It’s going to probably get sparse fairly quickly, [but it will be] hard to turn people away,” she said.
Land-lease negotiations last year between the Heritage museum and the Port of Bellingham, which operates the city’s airport, failed to reach agreeable terms on space for a new, larger museum facility that would be located just north of the airport’s runway.
Since 2001, the museum has operated out of an airplane hangar at the Bellingham airport owned by Apogree LLC, a firm owned by William Anders, an Apollo astronaut and founder of the nonprofit organization, as well as the father of its current executive director, Greg Anders.
Conceptual plans for Heritage’s new facility included a permanent museum building, along with a library, cafe and picnic area, as well as displays of decommissioned aircraft near the entrance to the property.
Heritage scrapped its plans late last year after its directors said they received an offer for a $3,500-per-month lease from port officials, which would be too expensive for the museum to manage. They argued that when Heritage first moved to the Bellingham airport, former port executive Jim Darling had offered to lease land to the museum for a nominal annual rate of $1, with consideration to its nonprofit status and the potential tourism it could bring.
Darling authored a port memorandum back in 2002 that said the port’s elected commission had found some support for allowing such leasing terms, as long as the museum met several conditions, including funding the project through a private foundation or state or federal grants and designing the facility so it could be converted for other commercial purposes should Heritage ever cease operations.
However, the port commission, which must vote to authorize lease decisions, never officially offered land to the Heritage Flight Museum under those terms.
Daniel Zenk, the port’s aviation director, said in a previous interview with The Bellingham Business Journal that the $1 lease offer was not something the port could offer, citing Federal Aviation Administration rules that require airports that accept FAA grant money (which Bellingham’s airport has done to fund upgrades to its runway and facilities) to charge uniform rates for any “fixed-base” operator.
In followup comments , Zenk said the museum had been an asset in Bellingham, and he’s sure they will be an asset at the Skagit Regional Airport.
“I wish them well. I hope they will thrive in Skagit County,” Zenk said.
Greg Anders said, in a statement released Oct. 31, that the museum’s directors and staff regretted having to leave Bellingham.
“We are a small business that cannot survive in an infertile environment. … We must go where we are more likely to thrive,” Anders said.
Simmons said that the museum’s staff hoped to hold a “soft” opening in its new Skagit County hangar space by February. Their target date for a grand opening would be in April, which would coincide with the region’s popular Tulip Festival, she said.
“That would be our hope to do that,” Simmons said. “It might be a little ambitious.”
Simmons said the museum’s directors and staff were excited about the possibilities of their new facility. The move to the Skagit Regional Airport will allow them to bring all of their collections and maintenance work under a single roof, continue with monthly and annual events, develop a gift shop and provide space for both corporate and private events, she said.
Patsy Martin, the executive director of the Port of Skagit, said the addition of the Heritage Flight Museum could bring much-appreciated new activity to the Skagit Regional Airport.
She said the regional aviation facility, which has some cargo service but minimal passenger flight activity, has seen a recent uptick in business from corporate clients, who use the airport to station their company-owned jets. A nonprofit museum that can offer event space and bring in visitors and tourists should fit nicely, she said.
“We have a large and very underutilized facility,” Martin said.
Heritage will have to make several modifications to their new space, including updates that will bring it into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, Simmons said.
She added that any supporters who wanted to lend a hand in the move should contact the museum.
Evan Marczynski, staff reporter for The Bellingham Business Journal, can be reached at 360-647-8805, Ext. 5052, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article has been updated to reflect the following correction:
Correction: Nov. 1, 2013
A previous version of this article misspelled William Anders’ name. This error has been corrected.
This article has also been updated to include comments from Daniel Zenk that were not immediately available upon initial publication.