St. Louis board puts off vote on contract to explore privatizing Lambert
The vote over a contract to start looking into whether the city will privatize St. Louis Lambert International Airport has been postponed.
The contract to hire a three-organization team was first approved by a city selection committee back in January. That committee approved an amended contract on Wednesday, but the Board of Estimate and Apportionment held off giving its final approval after a lengthy meeting Wednesday afternoon.
Mayor Lyda Krewson, Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed and Comptroller Darlene Green comprise the board. Reed sought additional amendments during the meeting that lasted more than three hours.
"We’re close but we’re going to need just a little more time for the attorneys, for the city’s counselors’ office, to work through those final changes,” Reed said after the meeting. “I think at the end of all of it we have the potential to have a much stronger deal in front of us.”
The proposed advisory team includes the non-profit Grow Missouri, which is funded by St. Louis financier Rex Sinqfield. McKenna & Associates LLC, an advisory and management consulting firm, and investment bank Moelis & Co. LLC, along with Grow Missouri, would seek private entities interested in leasing the city-owned airport.
Krewson expressed frustration at not being able to approve the contract she said has been in the works for six months.
“Had we been able to engage this advisory team, then we would have begun that process,” the mayor said. “Right now, we’re really the same place we were a year ago.”
Krewson emphasized that she isn’t certain whether privatization is the answer for the city-owned airport. The proposed advisory team would work with a six-member working group to send out Requests for Qualifications and then Requests for Proposals. The mayor said four groups would have to approve a contract before the airport could be leased to a private entity:
- Board of Aldermen
- Board of Estimate and Apportionment
- Federal Aviation Administration
- Majority of airlines at St. Louis Lambert International Airport
Reed said the amendments he sought would add more transparency and checks and balances for the process. He said privatization should only occur if it could be “truly transformative” in terms of job creation, public safety and dealing with blight.
“If it does not address those issues firsthand and also wipe out some of our debt, and let us have more money in the emergency reserve fund ... if those things don’t happen, then it’s not something we should do,” he said.
Mayor Francis Slay’s administration applied for the Federal Aviation Administration’s privatization pilot program in March 2017, just weeks before Slay left office. Supporters say the change of ownership would increase revenue and provide investment, while giving the city revenue from the airport.
While the FAA’s pilot program began in 1997, just one airport remains in the program, the Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
St. Louis Lambert International Airport, while not the hub it once was, has seen modest growth in recent years. It recorded a 4.2 percent increase in overall passenger traffic for the first quarter of 2018 over last year. In a statement this month airport officials said it had logged 31 straight months of passenger growth and added several new flights.