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Lead Consultant To Airport Privatization Group Responds To Criticism Of Lambert Documentary

St. Louis Lambert International Airport. August 2018
File Photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
Travis Brown, lead consultant to the city's Airport Advisory Working Group, defended his involvement in the making of a recent documentary focusing on the history of Lambert.

Updated Nov. 13 to reflect the film is no longer being distributed. 

First Rule Films pulled its documentary “Hard Landing at Lambert” from all streaming platforms Tuesday at the request of the Airport Advisory Working Group. 

Original story from Oct. 31.

Travis Brown is at the center of a controversy over the release Thursday of a three-part documentary about the history of St. Louis Lambert International Airport. 

Brown is the executive producer of “Hard Landing At Lambert,” and he owns the media advocacy company — First Rule — that produced and paid for it. He’s also the lead consultant to the city’s Airport Advisory Working Group, which is considering privatizing Lambert.

During a regular meeting Thursday, members of that group grilled Brown over his dual positions.

Head of the working group Paul Payne reiterated concerns he brought up last week, after first learning about the documentary.

“What caused me concern is when I see another group, particularly one that you’re involved with issuing, ‘Hey, we’re going to put out this documentary and then we’re going to talk about privatization’ — there’s a potential conflict there,” he said. “Because you are the project leader for this process, not some other process.”

Payne spoke with Brown privately about the issue earlier this week. As a result of that conversation, Brown canceled a prescreening of the film initially slated for Tuesday and allowed members of the working group to view the film.

Credit Corinne Ruff / St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis Public Radio
Travis Brown (right) takes questions regarding his connection to a new documentary about the history of St. Louis Lambert International Airport.

Brown described it as a historical look at the generational debt Lambert took on to build a billion-dollar runway that cuts through Bridgeton.

But members of the working group, including airport Director Rhonda Hamm-Niebruegge, are questioning the accuracy and agenda of the film.

“There’s a lot of false information in there,” she said, adding, “You show a landing fee of $8.56. We are actually at $6.56.” 

Hamm-Niebruegge listed two pages of notes about what she said is misleading information about the state of the airport.

“If you look at today, we are not crippled with debt,” she said.

In response, Brown acknowledged that the figures in the film are “historical figures which may not be adjusted to today’s numbers.” But he pushed back on the debt point.

“With due respect to the improvements today and the last few years, we still have a generational debt decision,” he said. “A lot of people feel strongly about that, and we give voice to those people.”

PFM Group consultant Rebecca Perry-Glickstein, who was brought onto the working group at the request of the city’s comptroller, questioned why Brown’s documentary suggests Lambert’s debt is unique.

“I don’t understand the context and the angst,” she said. “I mean, you want to talk about how airports are funded, then talk about how U.S. airports are funded. But this to me is like a directed attack on this airport.”

Brown defended that the debt structure is unique, and it’s a story worth telling the public.

LaTaunia Kenner, the comptroller’s designee on the working group, asked Brown if he felt there was a conflict of interest, given that he produced the film and directs the consultants on the working group.

Brown said no, “because I think we cover the historical facts of the last 25 years at this airport — this airport is a big part of this community.”

The documentary made its debut as the working group accepts qualifications from companies interested in a long-term lease of Lambert. Submissions to the RFQ are due at the end of the day Friday.

Members of the group have not decided when they will release a list of respondents.

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.