Though a proposal by the Treece family of Sylvania Township to privatize Toledo Express Airport has received no public support from Toledo City Council or Mayor D. Michael Collins, the idea is going to be given a hearing by council's economic development committee.
Councilman Rob Ludeman, the committee chairman, confirmed today that he is organizing an economic development committee meeting "regarding general discussion of the feasibility of selling the airport," according to an email from his office to the Treece family lawyer, Jerry Parker, and Paul Toth, president and chief executive officer of the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority.
Dock Treece, president of Treece Investment Advisory Corp., and his two sons, Dock David Treece, 27,and Benjamin Treece, 25, have proposed a lease-purchase of the airport with the option to buy airport land and run it on a for-profit basis. They contend the airport is not being aggressively managed and have said they would bring more businesses, such as jet repair facilities, and sell off airport land to generate more economic activity.
Mr. Ludeman’s office proposed a hearing in council chambers between April 28 and May 9.
The Treece plan received some interest from former Mayor Mike Bell, but has been given no encouragement by Mr. Collins, who took over on Jan.2.
The airport is leased for $1 a year to the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, which takes total responsibility for the facility in Swanton Township. In recent years, the airport has run a deficit because of the steep decline in the air freight business. This year, the airport reported an increase in passenger traffic for the first time in a decade.
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’s airport up for sale.
Asked why, then, he would devote council members' time to the proposal, he said that because it has been discussed in the news, council should get some information.
“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 did think there was a need to privatize the airport, it would be conducted through a national request for proposals.
The Treece proposal has attracted no significant business or political backing, and some national aviation experts have said that airport privatization is a complicated idea. The sale of airport land would be scrutinized by the Federal Aviation Administration, which would likely 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 about giving undue credibility to the proposal because of a message of "instability" it could send to the Department of Defense, which funds the 180th Fighter Wing of the Ohio Air National Guard 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.
"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."
The Treeces vowed in 2013 to disclose a detailed business plan for taking over operations of Toledo Express Airport early in 2014, but said in January that 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 today by The Blade, both Dock Treece and Dock David Treece refused to comment. The elder Treece said the family would not respond to questions from The Blade until they get an apology from The Blade for comments by Blade columnist Keith Burris about them and their capability of running the airport.
In December, the Treeces created a Web site, www.toledoairports.com, that contains information about their businesses. The Treeces 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.