Mayor Mike Bell on Thursday said a proposal from owners of a private investment firm to take over control of Toledo Express Airport is in its infancy and nothing has been disseminated to Toledo City Council because there is nothing to share.
“We don’t have anything to present to them,” Mr. Bell said. “I don’t have anything to give them. It would be premature to send something to council because we are not that far down the road.”
Emails obtained by The Blade show Dock David Treece, 26, a partner in Treece Investments, a West Toledo financial investment advisory firm, has courted the Bell administration about the airport since at least April.
The emails also indicate Mr. Treece wanted to cut Toledo City Council out of the process.
Mr. Treece, whose father, Dock Treece, is a former Sylvania Township trustee, has been sending communications to city officials about his proposals to privatize airport operations. In a May 6 email, Mr. Treece told Paul Syring, Mayor Bell’s top economic development official, that he was willing to create a “new, privately owned entity that will assume management of Toledo Express.”
The entity would need “complete operational control of all public facilities” and the right to “sell, lease, transfer, assign, or hypothecate” property at or near the airport, his email said.
“Obviously, transactions would occur at or near fair market value [we’re not going to fire sale property], but if we have to go to city council to approve every deal, we won’t be successful,” Mr. Treece wrote.
Mr. Treece said he and others would commit to personally make up any shortfall from operations; guarantee continued public access to the airport for aviation, and pay the city some portion of profits.
The city-owned airport, which is projected to lose about $674,000 this year, is operated and subsidized by the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority.
Reaction to the proposal since it was revealed Wednesday has been mixed.
Councilman Mike Craig said it would be impossible to avoid council approval on such a massive endeavor as switching the airport’s management.
“I have serious doubts as to whether Dock Treece can do a better job,” Mr. Craig said.
Councilman George Sarantou said the idea is worth examining.
“Clearly, the present system needs improving,” Mr. Sarantou said. “There is no question. Akron’s airport is competing with Cleveland and Flint is competing with Detroit, and they both do well.”
Councilman Shaun Enright said Mayor Bell should have told council about the proposal.
“I found out from reading The Blade,” he said. “I am not saying we want to close off the idea, but be transparent about it. It seems kind of shady reading about it in the newspaper.”
Port board member Jerry Chabler, who is the agency’s airport committee chairman, said he is skeptical of the idea, chiefly because Mr. Treece has no experience running an airport.
“What makes Dock Treece think they can run the airport better than the city or the port authority?” Mr. Chabler said. “The whole thing is crazy, and will probably end up being stillborn.”
Mr. Treece on Thursday said the idea is very preliminary, but Treece Investments could manage the airport.
“We are still so early in the discussion phase that it is hard to tell exactly what functions would need to be filled, but obviously we are quite capable of hiring employees and experts to assist us in the process if things move forward,” he said.
Mr. Treece said he, his father, and brother Ben Treece have spent more than $100,000 to pay for a report on their idea, a consultant, and legal fees.
“This is something we have paid our own money toward and will use in constructing a concrete plan,” he said.
Mr. Treece said the emails to the city are misleading and he never wanted to circumvent council.
“It is not our [intention] to exclude council from the process,” he said. “Our goal with that email was to understand what resolutions had already been passed by council and what activities we were already capable of doing, given those resolutions.”