For 17 months, St. Louis has been weighing the idea of leasing its airport to a for-profit entity. As a member of the city’s Board of Estimate and Apportionment, Mayor Lyda Krewson is among the three city officials who have the ultimate say in whether any deal goes through — the others being Comptroller Darlene Green and Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed.
Last week, the city’s airport working group approved a request for qualifications, which solicits potential bidders in order to gauge whether they can financially and operationally move forward in the process. On Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, Mayor Krewson joined host Sarah Fenske and shared her thoughts on the airport privatization process, among other topics.
Asked whether the costly process of exploring privatization has made her more or less interested in leasing the airport, Krewson said the information garnered has been useful no matter what happens next. “I’m very interested in how we can make improvements to our airport via that information,” she said. “Whether that’s through privatization or not is a whole other question.”
Here are some highlights of the conversation:
Q: You've gone on the record as saying you will not object to a vote of the city's residents on privatization. Will you commit to making sure that vote happens before any transaction closes?
A: It's not my commitment to make. So there are four entities that would have to approve any proposal that was put forward: One would be the Board of Estimate and Apportionment — that's a three-member board — one is the 29-member Board of Aldermen, the other is the [Federal Aviation Administration] and the other is the airlines. So it would really be the Board of Aldermen who would decide that they don't want to make the vote, or that they want to take the temperature of the voters in the city.
Q: So you won't call for [the Board of Aldermen] to go for the public vote. You think they should be the ones to decide whether or not to pursue that?
A: I think we need to look at, if there's a proposal that is so good or so promising … that most folks agree we should go forward [with], then there's no necessity for [a public vote]. The public will have to be involved — there has to be a lot of public meetings, has to be a lot of public input. And I'm going to leave it up to the Board of Aldermen as to whether or not they want to give their vote to a citywide vote.
Q: What will be done with the funds from an airport buyout?
A: This is an opportunity for us to meet particularly some of the transportation needs that we have in this city, or I should say, it could be an opportunity for that. We don't know because we don't have any proposals yet. But I'm not going to be for this if this doesn't get us a better airport. It has to do both things: It has to both provide good economics for the city, and it also has to get us a better airport.
Q: What will happen to city workers if the airport is privatized?
A: What we have written in the [request for qualifications], and will continue in the [request for proposals], is that all the city workers at the airport will have to continue to be employed, if they choose to be employed, for at least five years. Of course, they still have to come to work and do those kinds of things. But we are very committed to taking care of the workers at the airport. They're around 600 ... folks who work for the city. So we're very committed to that.
Q: Public Safety Director Jimmy Edwards has drawn some criticism for comments he made about the children who were killed in St. Louis this summer. Do you condemn those comments?
A: Judge Edwards cares deeply about the kids in St. Louis, as I do. And as I know your listeners do. This is a guy who has spent his life trying to keep kids safe — as a juvenile judge and then actually starting a school for kids that couldn't be in the regular school system — in order to try to help these kids lead productive lives. And so I will tell you that I think Judge Edwards’ heart is in the right place, and his behavior backs that up. … No one, including Judge Edwards, is blaming these kids.
“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, Alexis Moore and Tonina Saputo. The engineer is Aaron Doerr, and production assistance is provided by Charlie McDonald.
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