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Published: Wednesday, 4/2/2014 - Updated: 3 months ago

Toledo council hearing on airport privatization canceled

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Rob Ludeman. Rob Ludeman.
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The Treece family proposal to take over operations of Toledo Express Airport seemed last month to have traction with Rob Ludeman, the Toledo councilman overseeing economic development, but today he said a public hearing on the idea would be canceled.

Left to right, Dock Treece and sons, Ben, and Dock David. Left to right, Dock Treece and sons, Ben, and Dock David.
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Mr. Ludeman, a Republican and chairman of council's economic development committee, said in February that he would schedule a hearing even though no specific plan for moving forward with the plan offered by Dock Treece and his sons and business partners, Dock David Treece, 27, and Benjamin Treece, 25, was before council.

Mr. Ludeman had said he was not aware of any initiatives planned either by Mayor D. Michael Collins or by any members of council to seek bids or proposals to put the city-owned airport up for sale.

Mr. Ludeman today said the discussion might not be “appropriate.”

He said discussions with Toledo Lucas County Port Authority President and Chief Executive Paul Toth and Toledo Business Development Director Matt Sapara compelled him to change his mind.

“The reason I did not set a date [for a hearing] was because I wanted to do my own homework on it,” he said. “It has been a noteworthy topic. I met with Paul Toth and Matt Sapara and sat down with [Councilman] Larry Sykes and felt that the discussion was not appropriate.”

In an email to the other 11 councilmen and Mayor Collins, Mr. Ludeman today said the conversations “brought to light” issues that he said could be detrimental to the future of Toledo Express Airport.

“First, privatization would have large implications on [Federal Aviation Administration] funding, both past and present,” the email said. “Second, any implication that could have a negative effect on our great [Ohio Air National Guard’s] 180th Fighter Wing base should be avoided. And third, I felt a reluctance by both the port [authority] and the Collins administration to support or be a part of discussions changing the current relationships, primarily based on issues one and two.”

Mayor Collins has said he has no plan to propose privatizing Toledo Express Airport.

The mayor and Mr. Toth plan to hold a news conference at 3:45 p.m. today regarding the future operations of the airport.

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.

Dock Dave Treece said the meeting cancelation was "obviously a setback" but that they would continue to push for their privatization of the airport operations.

Mr. Treece said he believes privatization would not jeopardize any federal funding “so long as the parcels of land making up the airport continue to be owned by the city," Mr. Treece said.

Since their idea became public in 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 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.

“It was a wise move on Rob Ludeman's part,” Mr. Chabler said today. “They have said publicly they would not release the plan unless they were the exclusive people the city would be dealing with … because other people interested could take parts of their plan.”

Contact Ignazio Messina: imessina@theblade.com or 419-724-6171 or an Twitter @IgnazioMessina.



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