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Questions About St. Louis Lambert Airport Privatization Go Unanswered

Flight board lambert airport
File photo | Kae Petrin | St. Louis Public Radio
Some St. Louis aldermen claim they do not have answers to many questions about the airport-privatization exploration that is underway.

Several members of the city’s Transportation and Commerce Committee say they feel they have been kept in the dark when it comes to details on the Airport Working Group’s progress.

Two members of the group attended the Transportation and Commerce Committee meeting in City Hall today to deliver an update on the work completed so far by the large cadre of consultants who launched the airport privatization exploration process in August 2018.

The city’s budget director and chair of the Airport Working Group, Paul Payne, presented a two-page document that contained bullet-pointed summaries of tasks completed or to be completed by various “work streams."

“We’ve been left in the dark,” said John Collins-Muhammad, D-21st Ward. “This update is the most confusing document in the world.”

Payne said he had presented the same document at a meeting in November to the combined working group and consultants.

“These sheets they gave us were so vague,” said Joe Vaccaro, D-23rd ward. “It’s like giving a headline to a story, without doing the story.”

Payne told the Transportation Committee that the exploration process is complex and is in the early stages. It is expected to take a total of 18 months.

Consultants and the working group are in the process of compiling a complete review of the airport’s operations and finances. Financial models projecting airport budgets up to 40 years in the future, under city control versus a public-private lease, are being created. This work is a prerequisite to seeking proposals from companies interested in the lease.

LeJuan Strickland, a communications consultant who is managing community outreach for the FLY314 group, provided an update on his group's activities. FLY314 is the organization, funded by billionaire Rex Sinquefield, that is employing the consultants on behalf of the city.

Strickland reported that canvassers have knocked on 172,000 doors in the city and gathered 16,000 responses to a survey about the airport. He said the door-to-door operation was almost complete, and that the next phase of the communications plan would involve neighborhood and community meetings.

Information about upcoming informational meetings will be posted on the FLY314 website.

Co-sponsors of Bill 93 that would require a city-wide vote on any future airport-privatization proposal attended the Transportation Committee meeting. Chair Marlene Davis has not called for a vote on the bill that would send it to the Board of Aldermen.

“It doesn’t look like we’re going to be anywhere close to putting this current bill forward through the committee,” said Dan Guenther, D-9th Ward. He said the bill’s co-sponsors would bring it back for consideration in the next session.

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