The Treece family proposal to take over operations of Toledo Express Airport will get a hearing before Toledo City Council’s economic development committee even though no specific plan for moving forward is before council.
Councilman Rob Ludeman, the committee chairman, confirmed Friday he has extended an offer to Dock Treece and his sons and business partners, Dock David Treece, 27, and Benjamin Treece, 25, to appear before his committee. Mr. Ludeman said he is not aware of any initiatives planned either by the mayor or by any members of council to seek bids or proposals to put the city-owned airport up for sale.
“I don’t think council would take that initiative, but I think it’s been newsworthy enough, and I’ve had conversations with the Treeces and Jerry Parker, who represents them, that I think it’s worth council having an educational hearing,” Mr. Ludeman said.
He said if the city agreed that there was a need to privatize the airport, which has been managed by the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority since 1973, it would be done through a national request for proposals.
The meeting’s purpose, as explained in an email from Mr. Ludeman’s legislative aide to Treece lawyer Mr. Parker and Paul Toth, the port authority’s president and chief executive, will be a “general discussion of the feasibility of selling the airport and a presentation of the Treeces’ Concept Plan regarding the Airport.”
Mr. Ludeman’s office proposed a hearing in council chambers between April 28 and May 9.
Mayor D. Michael Collins has said he has no plan to propose privatizing Toledo Express Airport. His public information officer, Lisa Ward, declined to comment Friday on whether it was a good idea for council to provide a platform for the Treece proposal in the absence of an administration plan to delve into airport operations.
The port authority leases the airport from the city for $1 a year and runs it at no cost to the city, including when the airport operates at a deficit, as it did in 2011 and 2012 because of a steep decline in air-freight business.
This year, the port authority reported an increase in passenger traffic for the first time in a decade.
Dock Treece, president of Treece Investment Advisory Corp., and his sons have proposed a lease-purchase of the airport for the same annual $1 rent with the option to sell airport land and run the airport on a for-profit basis.
They contend the port authority is not aggressively managing the airport, while they would bring more businesses such as jet-repair facilities, and sell off airport land to generate more economic activity. Port officials have defended their airport marketing and said the Treeces have proposed no ideas that have not already been tried or are being used.
Since their idea became public last October, the Treece airport initiative has attracted no significant business or political backing, and some national aviation experts have said airport privatization is not a growing trend and is a complicated project at best.
The sale of airport land would be scrutinized by the Federal Aviation Administration, which could require repayment of millions of dollars in grants that have been provided over the years to develop and modernize the airport.
Additionally, the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce has warned against giving too much credence to the Treece plan because it might send a message of “instability” to the U.S. Department of Defense, which supports the Ohio Air National Guard’s 180th Fighter Wing base at the airport.
That military installation has been calculated to have an annual local economic impact of $198 million.
Jerry Chabler, chairman of the port board’s airport committee, said the Treeces are not experienced in airport management and are more interested in developing real estate, as suggested by the fact that Mr. Parker is best known locally as a real-estate lawyer. Mr. Ludeman is a Realtor as well.
“That should give city council a clue what their real interest is. I think it’ll be an exercise in futility once the councilmen hear about it,” Mr. Chabler said. “We’ve asked for their business plan now for six months. They kept promising it and they never produced it. It’s city council’s decision because they own the property. I think it would be an unwise decision.”
Most of council’s economic development committee members reached by The Blade on Friday said they looked forward to the Treece presentation, and saw it as a legitimate use of committee time. However, none has seen the detailed business plan the Treeces have promised, and none is aware of any plan to put the airport operation out for bid.
“If we’re losing money [at the airport], then we have to know how to generate revenue,” said Larry Sykes, committee vice chairman. “If it makes good business sense we’ll bring it to the full council and vote on it. I’m expecting them to go further into detail.”
“I’m definitely interested in hearing what they have to offer,” councilman Matt Cherry said before remarking he has not yet learned enough to support or oppose the idea.
Councilman Mike Craig, meanwhile, said he doubted Matt Sapara, “the guy we pay to do economic development,” would support airport privatization. Mr. Sapara is Mayor Collins’ economic development director and a former chief operating officer for the port authority.
“On the face of it, it doesn’t look like a good idea,” Mr. Craig said of the Treece plan. “I would have to see their full proposal, but there are some federal funds that we have to make sure we protect.”
Committee members Theresa Gabriel and Sandy Spang were not immediately available for comment Friday night.
Mr. Sapara said Friday he was unfamiliar with the Treece plan and had no opinion about it.
The Treeces vowed in 2013 to release a detailed business plan for taking over operations of Toledo Express Airport early in 2014, but said in January they would not do so. At the time, Dock David Treece said the plan “will remain private until we know what subsequent steps will be taken by the city of Toledo.”
Contacted Friday, both Dock Treece and Dock David Treece refused to comment. The elder Mr. Treece said the family would not respond to questions from The Blade until they get an apology from the newspaper for comments by columnist Keith Burris about them and their capability of running the airport.
In December, the Treeces created a Web site, toledoairports.com, that contains information about their businesses. They say they own an aircraft leasing company and the elder Treece is a licensed pilot. They published on their Web site a marketability study suggesting ways they believe the airport could be better commercialized.