Terry Van Dien, who wants to set up an aircraft factory at the Las Vegas airport, is no stranger in developing partnerships with municipalities.
Nearly 10 years ago, he entered an agreement with the city of Santa Fe’s airport to run a service center there. But the arrangement crumbled when he didn’t pay the contractor hired to build hangars.
According to documents from the city of Santa Fe, Van Dien also sold hangar spaces before they were constructed and sold dirt from the excavation to a private entity — both of which were deemed violations of the agreement.
Van Dien said the reason the deal fell through is that his company at the time, Sportsman’s Aviation, was scammed by a financing company. He said he has a letter from then-Attorney General Tom Udall proving that fact — a document he said he has given to Las Vegas officials. The Optic has been unable to obtain that letter.
Van Dien said the whole situation made him a poor man for a while.
“I lived in a storage unit. That’s where I was for the Christmas of 1999. My car was repossessed. We got scammed. Thank God for Tom Udall,” he said.
These days, Van Dien has been pushing for the creation of a light aircraft factory at the airport, which he said would eventually create 1,000 local jobs. But last year, the Las Vegas-San Miguel Economic Development Corporation recommended the city not go ahead with an agreement with his new company, Condor Aviation, because EDC contended it hadn’t received enough documentation.
Last month, Sharon Caballero, EDC’s executive director, said her group still needed to see proof that Condor had the financial backing that the firm says it has.
“Our responsibility is to protect the taxpayers of Las Vegas. We also have to deal with the FAA and its rules,” she said at the time.
Mayor Henry Sanchez has said the city relies on EDC to provide it with recommendations for such projects.
Van Dien criticized EDC and the city for not approving his factory.
“We’ll get the last laugh. The city can moan all they want. One way or another, we’ll get this done. When the City Council starts putting their aspirations ahead of the people they’re supposed to represent, they’re out of line,” he said.
“The problem is that there is a lot of gum flapping going on. We are trying to raise $100 million total. You can’t do that overnight. We have enough to do that. We’re trying to do a couple of projects at the same time. The money is not the issue,” he said.
He said the city needs to be fair and issue a request for proposals, so all interested companies have an equal shot for operations at the airport.
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In Santa Fe, Van Dien said he wanted what is known as a fixed base operation, which he said would have essentially served as a truck stop for corporate and general aviation.
After Sportsman’s Aviation entered a contract with Santa Fe, the city repeatedly asked by letter about his certification of financial capability to build the hangars and complete the project — a requirement of the agreement. Sportsman also failed to pay more than $12,000 in rent, Santa Fe documents state.
In such letters, the city warned that it would terminate the contract if Sportsman didn’t provide the certification.
“This city regrets this harsh action. However, you have had almost six months to comply with the lease agreement and no further delays can be tolerated,” Terry Nefos, transit and aviation director, stated in a Sept. 26, 1997, letter.
In a letter on Oct. 24, 1997, Van Dien responded that he had presented a funding commitment letter to the city in fulfillment of the lease’s provisions.
According to city documents, Sportsman owed Borrego Construction, the contractor, $250,000 for preparation work for the airport project, impacting Borrego’s ability to pay subcontractors.
City staff acknowledged to the Santa Fe City Council that they failed to follow up on whether Van Dien had financing.
The council voted to assign the contract to Borrego, although it wasn’t an expert in aviation.
This week, Jim Montman, the current aviation director, said the contract was assigned because of Van Dien’s company’s inability to pay. He said the project was never completed.
City documents state that Van Dien sold five hangar spaces before anything was built. Such transfers had to be approved by the city, and they were not, according to the city.
The documents state that Van Dien agreed to stop selling the spaces after he was informed about the problem. He also stopped selling dirt from the airport after the city objected, documents state. He wasn’t allowed to profit from the selling of material from public property, the city stated.
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Van Dien, who was an aviation teacher at Robertson High School years ago, said he is committed to Las Vegas.
“I was in tears when I left Robertson in 2000,” he said. “I never had a problem with the kids. I want to be able to come back here and contribute and do something so that kids don’t have to leave town to get jobs.”