Recent History – 2003
June 19, 2003 — By Kelly Harris, Daily News Staff
Cut a deal or risk bankruptcy and job loss. That’s the message Mayor Wayne Dahlen is giving AJ Industries owner Gary Aven. In a city press release Dahlen said the decision to sell the property the embattled wood products producer occupies was made in part to avoid more turmoil with the producer.
Dahlen cited several times the city has cut deals with Aven to keep his 43 employees working, only to see nearly $184,000 of taxpayers money left unpaid.
“After years of turmoil over this property, the city recognized that it should no longer play the role of landlord to a private sector enterprise,” Dahlen said. “AJ Industries’ $183,000 debt to the city is proof of that.”
Dahlen now wants Aven to work a deal with new property owner Emporium Investments to avoid job loss and the possibility of bankruptcy.
“I am deeply concerned that Mr. Gary Aven refuses to meet with Emporium to negotiate a new lease,” Dahlen said. “I urge him to quickly seize the opportunity he has been given to avoid bankruptcy and job loss.”
Aven disagrees, saying the city not only should remain his landlord, but that it also has a legal obligation to do so.
Aven first brought media attention to his plight in March after getting notice from the city to pay its bill or get off the land.
Aven and the employees of AJ pressured City Hall through protests and the city eventually caved, saying it would work with the company to keep the doors open. No deal has been cut and Aven said the city’s decision to sell the land to his competitor Emporium Investments is abreach of contract the city struck with him in April.
Jerry Lee of Emporium has said he wanted to work with AJ industries to keep the doors open and lease the land to Aven’s company. One idea was for AJ to cut an exclusive deal, selling only to Emporium until Aven’s company, now under creditor protection, becomes financially stable.
If they want to enter the free market they would have to find a new piece of land to work from.
“I reject the proposal,” Aven said. “It doesn’t work. I don’t need anyone buying supplies for me.”
Aven said he wants a long-term five-year lease agreement and theright to continue to sell his product on the open market. Aven has long maintained that the city’s debt was the reason he sought creditor protection and without the debt, his company would be viable.
Aven also he’d keep his obligation to his landlord, by paying all bills from this day forward.
“They’ll have the right to kick us out over non-payment,” he said. “That is not an issue.”
Regardless of Emporium’s ideas or whether they’d be willing to work out a long-term lease, Aven isn’t ready to speak to the company. His lawyers sent a letter requesting information about lease proposals to Emporium, however Aven said it isn’t time to speak toLee or his group because he’s seen nothing that says Emporium is the owner of the property.
“I don’t believe it’s time to talk to him,” Aven said. “I’ve paid my rent for this month to the city already.”
AJ Industries met with creditors to discuss its restructure proposal Wednesday. The property at 625 -106 Ave. is the only piece of city owned land that is occupied by a private business, Dahlen said.
This article is taken from the Peace River Block Daily News, Dawson Creek, with the permission of the publisher. The Daily News retains all rights relating to this material. The information in this article is intended solely for research or general interest purposes.