The exploration of the potential privatization of St. Louis Lambert International Airport continues — request for qualifications submissions from interested companies were due today.
The city of St. Louis will now begin screening potential bidders to gauge whether they can financially and operationally move forward in the process. But now both St. Charles County and St. Louis County have entered the debate on airport privatization. They want the Port Authority to study regional control of the airport and whether privatization is a good idea.
On Friday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Sarah Fenske talked with St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann about why he is pushing for an exploration of regional governance of the airport.
Ehlmann said he supports the idea of privatizing the airport if that will help it run it more efficiently. But he’s concerned about the lack of transparency as to any additional revenue that comes from a potential deal. After all, he said, user fees and not tax dollars currently fund the airport’s operations.
Any proceeds, he said, “ought to go back into the airport and be reinvested in improving the airport or paying down the $600 million debt that the airport now has.” He added, “Of course that’s a possibility — the city could decide to do exactly that — but there's no guarantee they will.”
Ehlmann wants a public debate as to whether privatization is a good idea and where any profits should go. And he says he’s talked to state power players about entering the discussion.
“I think the debate needs to take place in Jefferson City,” he said.
Ehlmann also noted that the airport’s advisory board has a St. Charles County representative. But the group has not been asked its thoughts on privatization.
“The reports I’m getting is that the airport is doing much better, and it’s being run very well,” he said. “But this particular group has not even been consulted for their thoughts on whether privatization should occur. You’d think that an advisory group like that, someone might come out and ask them what they think.”
Listen to the full discussion:
“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.
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