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St. Louis Ends Airport Privatization Process But Holds Off On Withdrawing FAA Application

St. Louis Lambert International Airport. August 2018
File Photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
The Board of Estimate and Apportionment on Wednesday unanimously voted to terminate the privatization process of St. Louis Lambert International Airport, ending what had been more than a year-and-a-half-long undertaking.

It’s definitive. St. Louis Lambert International Airport will not have a private operator. 

Members of the St. Louis Board of Estimate and Apportionment voted unanimously Wednesday to officially terminate the process. 

For more than a year and a half, a working group frequently met with more than a dozen consultants to consider leasing the airport’s operations. Last month, just before the group seemed poised to issue a request for proposals from some of the 18 interested companies, Mayor Lyda Krewson announced she would pull the plug on the endeavor.

The official move Wednesday also terminates the consultant agreement with the firms Moelis & Co., McKenna & Associates and Grow Missouri. Local billionaire Rex Sinquefield paid more than $11 million to fund the process through his organization Grow Missouri.

Credit Corinne Ruff | St. Louis Public Radio
Members of the Board of Aldermen meet to terminate the airport privatization process, including the consultant agreement.

City officials, including President of the Board of Aldermen Lewis Reed, Comptroller Darlene Green and Mayor Lyda Krewson, made the vote Wednesday without discussion. 

Green, who has been a vocal opponent of the privatization process, said after the meeting that she’s glad it’s over. 

“It’s a clear victory for the citizens of St. Louis, and now it’s time for us to move forward, to develop the airport grounds and continue to operate that airport in a very efficient manner,” she said. 

Reed, a proponent of the privatization process, left quickly after the meeting.

FAA application up in the air

The whole effort to pursue privatization started with an application to the Federal Aviation Administration. It was the first step in a process sponsored by the federal government's Investment Partnerships Program, which allows airports to shift governance from public to private entities.

A dozen airports have explored the process, but only one remains in the program — Puerto Rico’s Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport.

In an interview after the meeting, Krewson said she’s still deciding whether to withdraw the city’s application. She said she’s waiting to see “if there’s any reason at all to keep that alive.”

Krewson said keeping the application open doesn’t mean pursuing “privatization as we have been thinking about it.”

“The county and several other folks have been talking about what we might do with our airport going forward,” she said. “So we’re looking at it in terms of what all of our options are.”

Lorraine Herson-Jones, manager of the Airport Compliance Division for the FAA, said St. Louis is not required to formally withdraw from the program. 

“In practice, people have provided in writing a withdrawal for the program,” she said. “If they don’t, we have, other times, sent a letter asking if they intend to withdraw.”

She said the application will remain where it is until the city specifically tells them they are no longer pursuing the option.

If the city were to seriously consider a regional governance model, Herson-Jones said that would only be possible through a separate federal program.

St. Louis Deputy City Counselor Michael Garvin said the city plans to release a number of documents later Wednesday, which it accumulated during the airport privatization process. They will be available at the FLY 314 website.

Garvin said he’s also reviewing documents held in a data portal that was set up for bidders hoping to lease the airport. He said it may contain more public documents.

He said those documents will likely appear on a separate website operated by the airport in the future.

The working group that considered airport privatization will not meet again.

Follow Corinne on Twitter:@corinnesusan

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