Saturday, March 18, 2017
Westchester airport: Ambitious timeline for privatization
The outside firm hired to help privatize Westchester County Airport has an ambitious timeline that would see a contract in place by year's end.
Speaking with members of the county Board of Legislators Monday, representatives from Frasca and Associates said they hope to get a request for proposals out by the end of the month and get the deal done by the end of November.
“We're getting a lot of calls from airports that are looking to do (public-private partnerships)," said Doreen Frasca, president and principal of Frasca and Associates. "As you have other airports competing for dollars, the less attention is going to be focused on Westchester. I think you want to be first out of the chute if you can.”
The firm, which worked on earlier deals to privatize Stewart International Airport in Newburgh and to bring in private investors at LaGuardia Airport, said they want to give bidders a minimum of 90 days to respond after issuing the request for proposals by March 31.
They would evaluate the deals over a two or three week period, aiming for county approval in September, with financial close and final Federal Aviation Administration approval in November.
Frasca, which only works on the public side of these deals, was brought in last month to assist the county as it moves forward with finding a private operator for the county-owned airport.
The idea of privatizing the county airport was first floated by County Executive Rob Astorino last year as a way of driving revenue from the airport into the county's coffers and to keep his six-year streak with no county property tax increases intact.
The county legislature balked at the short time period they were given to review the deal with private equity firm Oak Tree Capital Management while also working on the 2017 county budget. They did decide to move forward with the concept, however, after the budget was done.
Federal law keeps the county from taking revenue from the airport and using it to pay for services, however, the pilot airport management program from the FAA, enacted in the 1990's, would.
The county airport was accepted into the pilot program on a preliminary basis late last year. Once a deal is struck, the FAA needs to review the plan and sign off on it.
Monday, Frasca and Associates said between 8 and 10 different firms had expressed interest in submitting a bid and that many were international, as privatization has been more popular in Europe, Asia and Latin America.
Some, the representatives said, would team up with a U.S. partner. They said the hope for some is to gain a foothold in the United States, where President Donald Trump has talked up private-public partnerships as a way to drive infrastructure improvements.
The deal would still likely be for a term of 40 years.
Frasca said the best deal would be one where the county still has input.
“This is not only a revenue deal. This is about making this airport the best that it can be," she said. "If we want to simplify it to revenues, it’d be a very simple process, but we’re looking for a lot more than that.”