A Seneca Nation court has ordered the Niagara Aerospace Museum to vacate its premises within 60 days, but a lawyer for the facility vowed to appeal.
In a decision last week, the Seneca Nation Peacemakers Court also ruled that within 30 days, the museum must pay its back rent into an escrow account set up pending the end of its lawsuit.
The court decision is the latest in what could be a long legal fight over the museum's space on the first three floors of the building at 345 Third St. in Niagara Falls.
The museum has a lease on that property through 2037. But the Seneca Niagara Falls Gaming Corp. has been trying to evict the museum since last June, when it was late on its rent payment.
Jacek Wysocki, an attorney for the museum, said it plans to appeal the decision through the Seneca court system and then to U.S. District Court Judge William B. Skretny if necessary.
"We're going to lose and then go to Skretny," Wysocki said.
Wysocki argued that the Seneca court didn't give him a full chance to make his case that the museum's lease is unclear about when rent must be paid. The museum has been trying to pay its rent since late June, but the landlord has refused to accept the payments, saying it wants to evict the museum.
The late rent payment was one of several issues that made the museum a problem tenant, said Barry Brandon, an attorney for the tribal gambling corporation. He said the museum failed to report its financial data monthly, even though a rent supplement was supposed to be based on that data. In addition, he said the museum made a mess of its space on the third floor of the building.
"It's a pretty simple eviction case," Brandon said.
At the same time, Brandon acknowledged that it's "quite possible" that the gambling corporation would be trying to get the museum to move even if it had been a model tenant. The Seneca Niagara Casino needs more office space and is using the museum building for that purpose.
Wysocki contended that it was Seneca employees, not the museum, that left piles of rubble on the building's third floor.
In trying to resolve the dispute, the museum asked the Seneca company for a $3 million lease buyout, which would allow it to find another facility.
But the gambling company refused to negotiate, with Brandon saying the museum was seeking "a $3 million windfall."
The museum attempts to chronicle Western New York's rich aviation history. It is home to the first commercial helicopter, early fighter planes and other aircraft used in World War II and other conflicts.
Museum leaders have indicated they are seeking another home for the facility while fighting their court battle over the Niagara Falls site.