Air piracy

Toledo Express is a vital public asset; a flimsy plan to turn it over to private control won’t fix its troubles


Toledo Mayor-elect D. Michael Collins is expressing skepticism — if not enough, at least in public — toward the empty proposal by a local family of investment advisers to take over management and development of city-owned Toledo Express and Toledo Executive airports. Mr. Collins and Toledo City Council need to kill this scheme.

The latest effort by entrepreneur Dock Treece, his wife, and his two 20-something sons to persuade officials and taxpayers that they should run both airports is a Web site that outlines the family’s “vision” of the airports as generators of regional economic development. It does little to answer the question of what qualifies them to operate Toledo Express, a public asset worth more than $1 billion.

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Mr. Treece promises to produce a fuller feasibility study and business plan, but says he hasn’t done so yet in order to obstruct The Blade’s ability “to pick and choose” what it reports about these documents. That effort to change the subject shouldn’t fool anyone.

The Treeces demand the ability to “sell, lease, transfer, [or] assign” property at or near Toledo Express, which is close to an Ohio Turnpike exit. In return, they offer to assume the airport’s operating losses and share any profits it makes with the city. The potential rewards don’t justify the real public risk.

Privatization advocates cite the airport’s projected $300,000 loss this year — requiring public subsidy — to argue that the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority must forfeit its responsibility to manage Toledo Express for the city. A profit would have been better, but that small a deficit in the context of the airport’s value does not make the case for drastic change.

The Treece family cites as its main business managing about $40 million for its investment clients — relative chump change in the world of big-time money management. Its other interests include an airplane-leasing company, an 80-acre farm “in the hills of Tennessee,” several commercial property management companies, an office staffing company, a corporate-relocation consulting firm, and participation in oil and natural-gas deals. None of these enterprises begins to approach the scope and scale of operations at Toledo Express.

The Treeces insist that “nothing has been hidden from City Council [or the public] — and nothing will be hidden from them.” But in an email this year to an aide to Mayor Mike Bell, Dock David Treece — one of Mr. Treece’s sons — said that “if we have to go to City Council to approve every deal, we won’t be successful.” So much for full disclosure.

The Treece family asserts that “under private control Toledo Express can do far more to attract new commercial carriers,” but offers nothing substantive to back up that claim. Similarly, the family says its development plans “would increase property tax revenues paid to Lucas and Wood counties” — the same rationale used for the Bell administration’s sale of the still-vacant Marina District.

The airport scheme seeks to exploit the tiresome “government bad/​business good” mantra that has replaced critical thought within much of Toledo’s business and political communities. Anti-government slogans are no substitute for genuine competence.

The port authority is not immune to criticism for its lackluster management of Toledo Express, contrasted with the greater success of comparable airports in Akron/​Canton and Flint, Mich. But the drastic falloff in passenger traffic at the Toledo airport since the Great Recession began is largely the product of factors beyond the authority’s control.

These include consolidation of the U.S. airline industry in a way that favors large “hub” airports such as Detroit Metro, excessive federal deregulation of the industry, rapidly rising industry costs for such things as jet fuel, and northwest Ohio’s slumping economy in recent years.

Port authority officials can do little to affect these matters. The Treece family could do even less.

The “vision” the Treeces offer for Toledo Express seems to be primarily one of dollars flowing into their wallets from airport-related property deals. What the rest of the region would get from their privatization — and wealth-transfer — scheme is far less clear.

Mr. Bell, the outgoing mayor, could and should have stopped this nonsense when it first emerged, but he didn’t. Now it’s up to Mr. Collins and City Council to make clear that Toledo Express is a valuable public asset that will not be given away to fly-by-night private control.