The St. Louis Board of Aldermen on Friday passed a resolution that would require representatives from Mayor Lyda Krewson’s office and the team advising the city whether to privatize Lambert International Airport to provide updates to the legislative body every 60 days at public hearings.
Introduced at last week’s meeting, sponsoring Alderwoman Marlene Davis, from the 19th Ward, said she wished regular reports from the officials who have been involved process would better inform the public.
“We know that we have a process that’s been put in place above any desires that we have as a Board of Aldermen,” Davis said. “I first want to clear up that we do not have the privilege to sell the airport, it cannot be sold by this municipal body or any other. I also want to make clear to the public that we are in the process of drafting a contract, the contract has not been finished. We are making sure that everything we have in this resolution is in the contract. We’re making sure that we have access to the meetings going forward, and that we have the opportunity to gauge how we are implementing the process.”
The resolution noted that the mayor has agreed to these meetings and added that the public will have access to a “transparency portal” that explains the process and “in every possible case provide access to documents, contracts, reports, meeting minutes and other materials”
The resolution passed by a vote of 18-8 with Alderwoman Sarah Wood Martin absent, but was met with opposition from at least eight Aldermen who made it very clear that Rex Sinquefield’s involvement in the airport privatization process is troubling.
The eight Aldermen who voted against the resolution — Cara Spencer, Samuel Moore, Christine Ingrassia, Scott Ogilvie, Megan Green, Dan Guenther, Sharon Tyus and Heather Navarro — would ultimately need to approve a future lease agreement, due to the fact that a lease agreement for Lambert would require 20 yes votes, not the usual 15.
Nine no votes would kill the agreement altogether.
Many also questioned who wrote the resolution, citing terms in the statement read that it was written by an airport consultant.
“Our general public is outraged by this process so far and they should be,” Spencer said. “There are inherent conflicts of interest that have been reported numerous times already. Moving forward with meetings every 60 days to have an update on where we’re moving forward from a process that has been flawed from the very beginning is putting lipstick on a pig, and that is exactly what we’re proposing to do today. This is an insult to transparency, it’s an insult to the public and it’s an insult to a process that may actually be good.”
If the privatization does happen, the city of St. Louis would still retain the ownership of the airport but would also have a deal in place with a selected contractor in which the contractor would run the day-to-day operations of the airport.
According to the charter and ordinances of the city of St. Louis, the decision to move forward on privatization cannot move forward without approved from the Airport Commission, the Transportation Committee and the St. Louis Board of Aldermen.
Originally, the idea of privatization was initiated by former St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay before he left office in early 2017. Shortly after it was requested, it was granted federal approval by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
According to some advocates for the privatization of the airport, the deal would allow more income to come into the suffering city of St. Louis. Money from the deal could be used on upgrading key infrastructure within the city along with other projects.
In January, Mayor Krewson, stated the airport has long been in need of substantial upgrades and the privatization would help the airport remain competitive.
“While St. Louis Lambert International Airport has improved significantly over the last few years, no one argues that it is as good as we would like it to be,” Krewson said. “Our leisure and business travelers desire more direct flights to more locations and better and more competitively priced services. Our regional economy needs additional freight transportation. Achieving better airport service is the highest and primary objective of exploring the FAA’s Airport Pilot Privatization Program.”
In January, it was announced that Sinquefield’s nonprofit, Grow Missouri Inc. along with McKenna & Associates LLC and Moelis & Co. LLC, would help guide St. Louis government with the intricacies of the deal.
Critics were quick to point out that the selection process was met behind closed doors, and a quick legislative hearing didn’t allow for any public comment for residents to ask questions or have their concerns heard.
In a letter sent to Krewson, state Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, called for the removal of Grow Missouri Inc. from the team of advisors.
Nasheed stated that Grow Missouri Inc.’s founder, Sinquefield has been influencing the privatization efforts and his involvement was an “obvious conflict of interest scenario that taints the entire privatization process.”
Slay argued in a guest column for St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he personally asked Sinquefield to provide the city with resources to explore the possibility of privatization and Sinquefield understands that if it isn’t a good deal for the airport and St. Louis, the deal would not happen.
In other business, a bill that could give tax breaks to redevelop the old Foundry site on Forest Park Avenue got a first reading before the Board but no action was taken. That legislation could lead to $19 million in tax increment financing to help with Phase 1 of the $187 million development.
The Board also approved a significant 20-year tax abatement plan to redevelop a building near Busch Stadium. The building used to be housed by St. Louis Community College, but will become luxury apartments under legislation introduced by Alderman Jack Coatar from the 20th Ward.