A proposal to privatize St. Louis City-owned Lambert International Airport came to a halt last month after Mayor Lyda Krewson said in a Dec. 22 interview that there was “very little support” for the effort.
Krewson announced that she would instruct Deputy Mayor Linda Martinez to vote no to issue a request for proposal for privatization. A no from Martinez, who represents Krewson on the four-member Airport Advisory Working Group, would effectively prevent the vote from succeeding, as Comptroller Darlene Green previously announced she would also vote no.
But just as 2020 began, a new plan regarding the airport’s ownership came to light. County and municipal leaders in Jefferson, St. Louis and St. Charles counties are discussing the possibility of purchasing Lambert from the city of St. Louis and operating it under a regional board.
The purchase would be financed by a special sales taxing district spanning St. Louis, St. Charles, Jefferson and Franklin counties. The half-cent sales tax could generate $80-$100 million annually. Voters in those jurisdictions would have to approve the plan.
Attempts to privatize the airport were started in 2017 by then-Mayor Francis Slay, who cited extra capital to help relieve City of St. Louis debt as his motivation. The effort was criticized by some, including Green, who called it, “a thinly veiled attempt to strip (the airport) of its cash and assets.”
Proponents of the regional board ownership plan believe the purchase could help pay back the airport’s nearly $600 million in debt through a sales tax. Bridgeton Mayor Terry Briggs, who pitched the idea, said he has met to discuss his proposal with leaders like St. Louis County Executive Sam Page, St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann and Jefferson County Executive Dennis Gannon.
Page’s spokesperson Doug Moore said the county executive remains uncertain about the proposal.
“It’s hard to speculate about how such an idea might work without first engaging St. Louis city leaders, the business community and the public in the conversation,” said Moore.