The city of St. Louis is considering leasing St. Louis Lambert International Airport to a private company. Such a deal could bring a cash windfall to the city.
On Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Sarah Fenske talked with Adolphus Pruitt, president of the NAACP’s St. Louis chapter. Despite skepticism and opposition from others, Pruitt is a vocal supporter of the idea of an airport lease. He said a large cash influx is needed to address the city’s problems.
“If somebody is willing to come in and invest money into the airport and pay the city significant dollars upfront that it can use to address some of those ill wills, we should be receptive to hearing that offer,” he said.
To Pruitt, the “ill wills” include millions of square feet of blight — vacant buildings and properties — primarily in north St. Louis.
“That shot in the arm is not going to come from some large government grant, it’s not going to come from taxpayers issuing bonds, it’s not going to come from general revenue,” he said. “Right now, the thing that’s upfront and has that possibility is the potential leasing of Lambert airport to outside management.”
Pruitt acknowledged that he’s received no assurances that proceeds from a deal would be used to address such needs. But he said that’s OK.
“As an advocate for north St. Louis and for the people of north St. Louis, my least concern is making sure that the city allocate those dollars in a way that benefits those who need it the most,” Pruitt said.
Pruitt said that he’d be upset if none of the money from a lease goes to north St. Louis, but insisted that a cash infusion can’t help but benefit the entire city.
“At a minimum, if it improves the city, it improves everybody in the city, so we’re going to benefit from the improvement that it generates irregardless,” Pruitt said. “[We’re] just saying that some of that improvement needs to be directly targeted at some of the worst areas of the city.”
He said he does not feel a public vote is necessary.
“I’m confident that if and when this happens and those sort of dollars are generated, I’m confident in the Board of Aldermen that they’re going to be fair and equitable and confident in the voting public, especially those in north St. Louis, who could benefit from [a lease], that they’re going to come out and do what we think needs to be done and make sure that that happens,” he said.
Retired financier and billionaire Rex Sinquefield is funding the city’s exploration of privatizing the airport. Sinquefield advocates for conservative and libertarian causes and founded the Show-Me Institute, a think tank that promotes free-market and individual-liberty principles.
Pruitt indicated that some critics of Sinquefield automatically dismiss the projects he supports.
“If I was in need of a transplant in order to live and Rex Sinquefield turned out to be a match as a donor, and if it required a public vote, I’m a dead man. Because they would say that because he’s going to give me an organ, that means somehow that’s going to make me support the earnings tax removal or some other crazy stuff,” Pruitt said.
“I think it is an embarrassment to say that our Board of Aldermen, that we don’t have the ability to hire and scrutinize if [privatization] is in the best interest of the city.”
In order for any airport lease to go through, two of the three members of the city’s Board of Estimate and Apportionment must approve the deal. All three have been guests on St. Louis on the Air to discuss the issue. Mayor Lyda Krewson, Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed and Comptroller Darlene Green.
In addition, the city’s two point people for its exploration, St. Louis Budget Director Paul Payne and Deputy Mayor for Development Linda Martinez, defended the process in September. Payne is also chairman of the Airport Advisory Working Group.
St. Louis Public Radio reporter Corinne Ruff has covered multiple angles of this story:
Mayors Near Lambert Airport Want Answers About Privatization
'We Don't Know Their Plans': Airport Workers Fear Privatization Puts Jobs At Risk
18 Companies Want To Lease St. Louis' Airport — Here's What You Should Know About Them
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan and Tonina Saputo. The engineer is Aaron Doerr, and production assistance is provided by Charlie McDonald.