In the midst of this political season, there’s another campaign underway in St. Louis. But it’s not on the ballot for the midterm election.
It’s the communication and outreach effort sponsored by FLY 314, the group charged with exploring the privatization of St. Louis Lambert International Airport. Grow Missouri, Inc., the organization funded by billionaire Rex Sinquefield, funds FLY 314 and is paying for project advisors’ expenses. Grow Missouri will be reimbursed by the city if and when a deal is done.
Any private lease agreement is subject to approval by the city government, the FAA and the airlines operating out of Lambert. A bill that proposes a city-wide vote to approve a privatization deal has been stalled in the Board of Aldermen. Mayor Lyda Krewson recently indicated that she does not believe a public vote is necessary.
The first phase of this campaign involves a door-to-door survey conducted by Metropolitan Strategies and Solutions. The company, headed by LeJuan Strickland, is one of several consultants being paid, for now, by FLY 314. According to public records, Metropolitan Strategies and Solutions received $133,895.86 for its first three months of work in St. Louis.
Kiara Lewis is coordinating a team of 15 paid workers who fan out across the city, seven days a week. They are conducting a survey about residents’ travel habits — why do they travel, and how do they get there — and opinions of the airport.
“We’re not out here to sway anybody in either direction,” said Lewis on a recent Sunday evening in the Jeff-Vander-Lou neighborhood. “We simply just want to hear what people think about the idea of getting this accomplished or not accomplished.”
Lewis noted that many of residents surveyed have not heard about the possible privatization of Lambert.
To date, the survey team has knocked on 85,000 doors and completed close to 8,000 surveys. The goal is 100,000 doors, and 20,000 completed surveys.
“The end goal is to collect as much data as we can,” Lewis said. “And to get the community familiar and aware that this is something the city is considering. And we want to know if this is a good idea or not.”
With a firm “rap, rap, rap” on the front door of a home on Garfield Avenue near north Spring Avenue, survey-taker Stephanie Gooch smiled when the resident opened the door. In just under three minutes, she had answers to eight survey questions and an email address for follow-up questions with the resident.
In general, Gooch said the response has been better than she expected. “We didn’t think too many people would be accepting, but most people are interested to learn what’s going on.”
Gooch said during the survey interaction, it’s important to remain neutral. “We explain that we are neither for it, or against it. We ask them for their opinion.”
The survey teams use a phone app called Organizer. It allows them to record residents’ responses to the survey and any other comments they would like to contribute. These are the eight questions on the survey:
- Have you heard the city wants to lease out the airport?
- How often did you travel outside the STL area last year?
- Reason for travel? Vacation, family, business, other.
- How did you travel: railroad, bus, commercial air, car?
- How many times did you visit St. Louis Lambert Airport?
- What grade would you give the airport? (A-F)
- Do you believe operations are good at Lambert?
- Do you believe there is room for improvement at the airport?
A good day for survey takers, according to field coordinator Kiara Lewis, is completing 15 surveys. One of her workers, Derik Stone, who was finishing a six-hour shift on Sunday, routinely gets 15, sometimes 20 surveys completed during a shift.
Stone has three years of canvassing for political campaigns under his belt. He likes doing the airport-survey work, but as it’s getting colder and darker earlier, they'll have to adjust their hours.
The survey-taking is expected to continue through the end of the year.
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