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St. Louis board puts off vote on contract to explore privatizing Lambert

St. Louis Lambert International Airport

The vote over a contract to start looking into whether the city will privatize St. Louis Lambert International Airport has been postponed.

The contract to hire a three-organization team was first approved by a city selection committee back in January. That committee approved an amended contract on Wednesday, but the Board of Estimate and Apportionment held off giving its final approval after a lengthy meeting Wednesday afternoon.

Mayor Lyda Krewson, Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed and Comptroller Darlene Green comprise the board. Reed sought additional amendments during the meeting that lasted more than three hours.

Credit St. Louis Lambert International Airport

"We’re close but we’re going to need just a little more time for the attorneys, for the city’s counselors’ office, to work through those final changes,” Reed said after the meeting. “I think at the end of all of it we have the potential to have a much stronger deal in front of us.”

The proposed advisory team includes the non-profit Grow Missouri, which is funded by St. Louis financier Rex Sinqfield. McKenna & Associates LLC, an advisory and management consulting firm, and investment bank Moelis & Co. LLC, along with Grow Missouri, would seek private entities interested in leasing the city-owned airport.

Krewson expressed frustration at not being able to approve the contract she said has been in the works for six months.

“Had we been able to engage this advisory team, then we would have begun that process,” the mayor said. “Right now, we’re really the same place we were a year ago.”

Krewson emphasized that she isn’t certain whether privatization is the answer for the city-owned airport. The proposed advisory team would work with a six-member working group to send out Requests for Qualifications and then Requests for Proposals. The mayor said four groups would have to approve a contract before the airport could be leased to a private entity:

  • Board of Aldermen
  • Board of Estimate and Apportionment
  • Federal Aviation Administration
  • Majority of airlines at St. Louis Lambert International Airport

Reed said the amendments he sought would add more transparency and checks and balances for the process. He said privatization should only occur if it could be “truly transformative” in terms of job creation, public safety and dealing with blight.

“If it does not address those issues firsthand and also wipe out some of our debt, and let us have more money in the emergency reserve fund ... if those things don’t happen, then it’s not something we should do,” he said.

Mayor Francis Slay’s administration applied for the Federal Aviation Administration’s privatization pilot program in March 2017, just weeks before Slay left office. Supporters say the change of ownership would increase revenue and provide investment, while giving the city revenue from the airport.

While the FAA’s pilot program began in 1997, just one airport remains in the program, the Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

St. Louis Lambert International Airport, while not the hub it once was, has seen modest growth in recent years. It recorded a 4.2 percent increase in overall passenger traffic for the first quarter of 2018 over last year. In a statement this month airport officials said it had logged 31 straight months of passenger growth and added several new flights.

Follow Maria and Melody on Twitter: @radioaltman @melodybird

Copyright 2021 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

Altman came to St. Louis Public Radio from Dallas where she hosted All Things Considered and reported north Texas news at KERA. Altman also spent several years in Illinois: first in Chicago where she interned at WBEZ; then as the Morning Edition host at WSIU in Carbondale; and finally in Springfield, where she earned her graduate degree and covered the legislature for Illinois Public Radio.
Maria Altman
Maria is a reporter at St. Louis Public Radio, specializing in business and economic issues. Previously, she was a newscaster during All Things Considered and has been with the station since 2004. Maria's stories have been featured nationally on NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition, as well as on Marketplace.
Long-time public radio listeners may remember hearing Melody Walker sign off from Paris in the 1980’s where she covered arts, politics, gastronomy, exiled dictators, and terrorist attacks for six years. She returned to WNYC (where she had her first job as a reporter while a student at Barnard College) and became producer of theLeonard Lopate Showand a newsroom reporter. Soon afterMarketplacelaunched, Melody was tapped to run the business show’s New York Bureau. She continued to work forMarketplaceas a freelancer in Chicago and contributed to WBEZ community coverage before another stint in Paris just in time to report on the Euro’s debut and the French reaction to the events of 9/11.