The program began in 1997; currently only the Munoz Marin International Airport in San Juan, Puerto Rico, is operating privately. San Juan is facing a deepening debt crisis that privatizing airport management in 2013 did not change.
Critics of the effort in San Juan say ethical conflicts and secrecy surrounded the process. Likewise in St. Louis. There have been no public meetings, and no involvement by the airport director, the airport commission or the Board of Aldermen, according to Post-Dispatch columnist Tony Messenger.
Former Mayor Francis Slay and Grow Missouri, a nonprofit funded by Rex Sinquefield, anti-income tax activist and conservative mega-donor, are behind the push. Sinquefield paid for the application to explore privately leasing airport operations. A month before Slay left office he signed an agreement with Grow Missouri, a Washington law firm and a politically connected consulting company allowing all three to seek compensation if the city contracts with a private vendor.
Mayor Lyda Krewson has said the application offers an opportunity to explore a public-private partnership and that “the key is in the details.” But her top adviser, Ed Rhode, also is a spokesman for Travis Brown, Sinquefield’s top political operative. Rhode also is an adviser to St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger, who will be involved in the airport’s future.