By Melody Walker, Saint Louis Public Radio (June 13, 2018)
A proposal to explore privatization of St. Louis Lambert International Airport has finally been cleared for takeoff.
The City’s Board of Estimate and Apportionment voted Wednesday to approve a contract with an advisory team charged with soliciting proposals from private firms to manage and oversee the operations of the airport.
The board is made up of Mayor Lyda Krewson, Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed and Comptroller Darlene Green. Krewson and Reed voted to approve the contract, while Green voted no.
Krewson said it’s the first step in a very long process that could take one to three years to complete.
“What we approved today was an advisor team to work with us to consider if we want to privatize the operation and management of the airport, not [to] sell the airport,” she told reporters after the meeting.
Green opposed the contract, claiming that airport privatization involved risk and would disrupt growth at Lambert. Green was also insistent that any proposed changes to the airport should be put to a public vote. According to the mayor, it is too early in the process to even consider a public vote.
President Reed blocked a vote on the contract at last month’s E&A board meeting. He said in the interim, “hundreds of changes have been made to the contract” to meet his demands calling for more transparency during the exploratory process, including changes to the structure of the city’s working group that will collaborate with the advisory team.
Reed said he also required the hiring of St. Louis-based investment advisor Stifel as a third-party financial advisor and Greenberg Traurig as an independent legal advisor.
In an effort to make the work of the advisory team and a working group representing city officials available to the public, Mayor Krewson announced a website: http://www.fly314.com. All documentation pertaining to the exploratory process will be posted on the site.
“The only reason to consider this is to get a better airport,” Mayor Lyda Krewson stated in a news release distributed to reporters after the E&A board meeting. “We owe it to ourselves to consider what could be a very positive turning point for the future of our airport. We worked to make sure the team we put together has the expertise to protect the public’s interest as we explore this opportunity.”
No taxpayer money will be paid to the advisory team during the evaluation process. Grow Missouri, Inc., an organization funded by billionaire Rex Sinquefield, is a member of the advisory team and is covering the cost of all professional services and expenses incurred.
Grow Missouri, Inc. will be reimbursed if the City reaches a final agreement with a private operator.