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Reed criticizes end of Lambert privatization effort; county suspends plan for airport study

Reed criticizes end of Lambert privatization effort; county suspends plan for airport study

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ST. LOUIS — Aldermanic President Lewis Reed on Friday criticized the way Mayor Lyda Krewson halted the city’s controversial consideration of leasing St. Louis Lambert International Airport to private operators.

Meanwhile, the St. Louis County Port Authority has suspended its plan to commission its own study of possible regional governance of the city-owned airport.

Reed, in his first public comment on Krewson’s Dec. 20 announcement declaring privatization dead, said that the city first should have sought, received and reviewed bids from some of the teams of companies competing for a privatization deal.

“I don’t think we had any information to make a clear and final decision,” Reed said in an interview. “It would have been good to at least see what the proposals looked like. We would have gotten good information from that, whether we moved forward or not.”

Krewson, in abruptly ending the city’s exploration of privatizing Lambert, had cited criticism from residents, business leaders and other elected officials.

The city’s top fiscal body, the Board of Estimate and Apportionment — made up of Reed, Krewson and Comptroller Darlene Green — is expected to vote Wednesday on a motion to formally end the privatization consideration.

Reed aide Tom Shepard said later Friday that Reed would vote with Krewson and Green to end the process despite his concerns at not having the chance to review actual lease bids.

The motion would terminate a contract with a team of consulting firms that had been advising the city on privatization.

The contract, begun in 2018, had been supported by Krewson and Reed and opposed by Green from the start.

Krewson’s move last month followed almost three years of controversy over the idea. Proponents said a lease deal could provide the city hundreds of millions of dollars.

Opponents alleged that such a deal would amount to selling out a key city asset to private interests.

While Krewson’s decision drew accolades from critics of privatization, leaders of the Carpenters union and the city NAACP chapter earlier this week said they would push to somehow keep the idea alive.

Reed on Friday also complained that the decision to end the process had left the city without “a realistic road map” to improve Lambert that lease bidders could have provided even if the city chose not to do a contract with one of them.

Eighteen teams of companies from around the world interested in leasing Lambert responded in November to a city committee’s request for qualifications.

The committee, the Airport Advisory Working Group, was in the process of paring down the number from which to seek bids when Krewson announced her decision.

Just the day before, Dec. 19, the county port authority had voted 4-3 to issue a request for proposals for consultants to do its own study of Lambert. The authority wanted to study the privatization idea and also the idea of placing the airport under regional governance.

“Everything’s changed since we voted on it a month ago,” John Maupin, who chairs the port authority, said Friday in explaining the decision to suspend the study. “It changed dramatically the very next day.”

After Krewson’s move, Maupin and Denny Coleman, the authority’s director, had initially signaled that they planned to move ahead with the county study and hoped that the city would participate in a commission they planned to form on the issue.

Since then, some area leaders have floated the idea of a sales tax district designed to essentially buy Lambert from the city and put it under regional control.

Reed on Friday said that’s a nonstarter and that “we have a regional authority right now” in the city Airport Commission. City members are in the majority but St. Louis County, St. Charles County and St. Clair County also are represented.

He proposed, however, that St. Louis County provide the city some money from the sales tax funds from Lambert that the county gets. He said he understands that the county amount exceeds the $6.7 million annually the city receives in Lambert revenue for nonairport uses. Most of Lambert is in an unincorporated area of the county.

Jacob Barker of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.

Updated at 4 p.m.

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