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Airport Bond Refinancing Passes — After Two-Week Delay

St. Louis Lambert International Airport. August 2018
File Photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis Lambert International Airport.

The St. Louis Board of Estimate and Apportionment quickly passed a measure to refinance bonds for the city’s airport on Tuesday.

The 15-minute meeting stood in stark contrast to a long, heated meeting two weeks ago.

At that meeting Mayor Lyda Krewson and Lewis Reed, the president of the Board of Aldermen, grilled Comptroller Darlene Green about a bill aimed to refinance $93 million in bonds for St. Louis Lambert International Airport at a lower interest rate from when they were first issued in 2009.

Green said the move would save the city more than $20 million.

In previous years the three-member E&A board has easily approved such refinancing, and Green said she was surprised by the number of questions from Krewson and Reed given it was a “simple bond transaction that’s been planned since 2015.”

Following Tuesday’s meeting, Green said the passage of the bill was a good thing but questioned whether the level of scrutiny and delayed approval had to do with efforts to privatize the airport.

“I can’t say what swayed them, but in the face of everything is the political tension surrounding the privatization,” Green said, “the fact that I am not connected but the two of them are very tied in to the privatization, and so I think that’s unfortunate for our citizens.”

During the meeting, Krewson thanked Green for answering a number of lingering questions and said she felt she had a much clearer understanding of what the refinancing plan would mean for the city even as it considers a possible privatization of the airport.

Following the meeting Krewson denied that she has a relationship to the privatization efforts and defended her right to ask questions regarding how the transaction would fit into the larger conversation about the airport’s future.

“We are exploring a new way of doing business at the airport. We don’t know if that’s going to move forward or not, but any step that we take today should have that in mind,” she said. “I think it just makes good business sense in order for us to understand this transaction and understand how it might relate if we were to lease the operation of the airport to a private operator.”

The plan proposes reducing the interest rate for the existing $93 million in bonds issued in 2009, which sits between 5.5% and 6.7%. By refinancing roughly $79 million in bonds at a current rate below 3%, and issuing new bonds for the difference, the city aims to save over $20 million. That money would go toward airport improvements, rather than paying down debt.

Reed also voted in favor of the bill, but did not have any additional comments. He left immediately after the board adjourned. The bill will now head to the Board of Aldermen.

At its meeting this Friday, Alderwoman Cara Spencer, D-20th Ward, is expected to introduce a bill calling for a public vote regarding the potential privatization of Lambert Airport. In December, she submitted a similar bill on the matter, but it stalled in the transportation committee.

Editor’s note: The bill calling for a public vote regarding the potential privatization of the airport is expected to be introduced to the Board of Aldermen on Friday. In an earlier version of this story, it was unclear whether the bill had been introduced last week.

Follow Corinne on Twitter:@corinnesusan

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org

Corinne is the economic development reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.