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St. Louis Working Group Considering Airport Privatization Fields Community Questions

Corinne Ruff | St. Louis Public Radio
Consultants Mike Jones (left), Stephanie Lewis (center) and St. Louis Deputy Mayor of Development Linda Martinez (right) give a presentation at Carpenter Library about the city's consideration to lease St. Louis Lambert International Airport.

About 20 residents gathered at an event Tuesday evening to ask questions regarding the city’s exploration of whether to lease St. Louis Lambert International Airport.

Consultants and members of the Airport Advisory Working Group, including Deputy Mayor for Development Linda Martinez, gave a presentation at Carpenter Library in south St. Louis about the process so far. 

The group also explained the potential benefit of a private deal — saying a cash influx could help pay down the airport’s debt and help alleviate problems like blight and crime in the city.

During the meeting, St. Louis NAACP President Adolphus Pruitt said the money could help revitalize north St. Louis.

“I can’t go to the public and say, ‘Give me a tax increase. I’m going to go ahead and beautify north St. Louis.’ It’s not going to happen. Can’t go to the federal government — 'Give me $300 million, I’m going to fix up north St. Louis.' It’s not going to happen,” he said. “Something like this is the only way that that’s going to happen.”

But most residents at the meeting expressed concern about the airport privatization process, questioning the lack of public engagement and transparency. 

One resident asked whether local billionaire Rex Sinquefield — who is funding the exploration process — is influencing the group’s decisions. According to the consulting agreement, the city would pay back Sinquefield’s organization Grow Missouri if the city signs a deal.

Stephanie Lewis, a consultant on the working group representing Grow Missouri, said Sinquefield has no day-to-day interaction with the process.

“With the exception of the public occasionally talking about Rex, we absolutely have no dealings with him — it’s almost as if he isn’t there,” she said. “There’s nothing that’s pushing us to make a decision one way or another coming from Rex.”

Another resident asked about the minimum amount of money the city would accept for a potential private operator to lease the airport. While the group hasn’t released detailed financial models, Martinez said the group is looking for a number between four and 10 times what the city is currently receiving. 

The city receives nearly $7 million a year from the airport to spend on other services.

After the meeting, St. Louis resident Erich Vieth said he wasn’t reassured about his concerns.

“I hope we get real detailed answers about what this proposal is, adequate time to consider it, and I think it’s really frustrating for me to see that citizens have not been allowed, or invited into the process, more than they are,” he said. 

The working groupwill host two more community outreach meetings this week — 7-8:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Schlafly Library and 2-3:30 p.m. Saturday at the Walnut Park Library.

Companies interested in leasing the airport have until Friday to submit their qualifications to the working group. Then, the group could ask some respondents to come back with detailed proposals sometime before the end of the year.

Glenn Muscosky, a consultant to the working group representing Moelis & Company, is the lead adviser facilitating the RFQ process. During a public meeting last week, he said there’s been a “healthy level of enthusiasm” from respondents to the RFQ.

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.

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