Already three investors are waiting in the wings with Punta Gorda Airport commissioners expected to debate a historic privatization option Thursday.
The five-person board has considered this option for several years, but began serious decision making only in the last few months. A recent change in the federal program encouraged advocates of leasing the airport to press the commission for a decision.
On their agenda Thursday is a resolution that would instruct Airport CEO James Parish to bring a final proposal from an investor to the board at its February meeting. That proposal must include certain restrictions including retention of personnel, limits on fee increases to Allegiant Air and maintenance and improvement of the facilities.
The meeting is 9 a.m. at 7375 Utilities Road near the airport.
At their last meeting, the commission struggled and then voted 4-1 to proceed with the debate, with Airport Authority Commissioner Kathleen Coppola opposing further debate.
At issue is the promise of hundreds of millions of dollars in income and improvements that investors say a public-private partnership would bring.
The worry for some is that Punta Gorda would be the first successful passenger airport in the country to try this model. Outside the U.S., however, the model is common in most of Europe, Africa and Asia’s major airports, outgoing Airport Authority Commissioner Pam Seay told the Sun in a meeting this past week.
Advocates, including Seay, say leasing the airport to a private entity allows the airport authority to use airport profits to benefit the rest of the county. Without the private partnership, federal aviation regulations bar the airport from spending profits outside of the airport. Due to this restriction, the airport has been accumulating a cash savings that it is not fully spending.
Examples of what the airport could support include an on-site hotel, housing for airport maintenance students, or even investment in Allegiant Air’s stalled Sunseeker resort in Charlotte Harbor. A critical element of the deal is that Allegiant has veto power over the deal, because it is the only commercial airline.
Seay said that three potential investors have submitted details of possible proposals, should the airport decide to adopt a public-private partnership. The financial deals in these airport proposals include:
• Investor up-front payments up to $200 million.
• Annual lease amounts range from $130-$300 million over 40 years.
• Capital investment up to $500 million.
At the last meeting, Airport Authority Commissioner Rob Hancik said he does not want to have a slush fund for the rest of the county. He insisted that if the airport is leased, all funds must be spent on the airport. Commissioners agreed, however, incoming Airport Authority Commissioner Vanessa Oliver told the Sun she does not feel bound by that restriction.
Consultant Andy Vasey said the definition of spending on the airport can be broad, such as including investment in Allegiant’s Sunseeker.