Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins drove another nail Wednesday into the coffin containing undisclosed plans three investors say they have to privatize Toledo Express Airport.
The mayor said “confusion” and “speculation” resulting from the efforts of Dock Treece, and his two sons, Dock David Treece, 27, and Benjamin Treece, 25, of Sylvania Township, to take over the airport has jeopardized millions of federal dollars and raised a flag of caution at the airport's military base.
“My administration is not going to entertain any plans as it relates to privatization of our airport,” Mayor Collins said during a news conference. “The confusion and the lack of predictability that this speculation has caused now has the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] reconsidering their investments in our airports.
“Secondly, I have been informed by one of the airport strategic partners that the [Ohio Air National Guard’s] 180th [Fighter Wing] is seriously concerned about the discussions of privatizing the airport,” he said.
Mr. Collins made his pointed and unequivocal comments hours after City Councilman Rob Ludeman, who had said he would hold a committee hearing about the Treeces’ idea, announced he would not entertain such discussion and dropped the hearing.
The Toledo-Lucas County 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 occurred in 2011 and 2012 because of a steep decline in air-freight business.
The Treeces have for months talked about and lobbied for their plan to operate Toledo Express and Toledo Executive Airport in Lake Township 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 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 been tried already or are being used.
Paul Toth, the port authority’s president and chief executive who joined the mayor at his news conference, said the FAA would cut the airport’s funding if it were privatized. The agency already has “challenged” the port authority over $6 million for runway improvements at both airports because of the privatization discussions, he said.
Dock David Treece, who attended the news conference as a spectator, pressed Mayor Collins and Mr. Toth by disputing their statements, claiming federal money would still flow as long as the city owns the airport.
“The lack of confidence from the FAA is nothing new,” Mr. Treece said. “There was discussion about closing Toledo Express’ tower at night two years ago.”
He said the airport is likely to lose its “approach control on the field,” which would make it a “near certainty” that commercial traffic would cease, and asked what plan the city and port authority have to deal with that.
Mayor Collins struck back at Mr. Treece — stating that no one had seen a plan from the Treeces and that their financial backers were secret.
Mr. Toth acknowledged the FAA could streamline operations by closing the control tower at night, but believes the port authority makes a strong case to keep it open. He also expects the FAA eventually to consolidate its Terminal Radar Approach Control facilities.
“The discussion on the TRACON, you are out of your league on that Mr. Treece,” Mr. Toth shot back to Mr. Treece.
Mr. Treece said he, his father, and brother had intended to keep their proposal secret, but promised it would be “live” on their Web site, toledoairports.com, by 8 a.m. today.
Earlier in the day, Mr. Ludeman said the discussion would not be “appropriate” for the same reasons offered by the mayor and Mr. Toth.
“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.”
Mr. Treece said the meeting cancellation and the mayor’s comments were “obviously setbacks” and that he was “a little discouraged,” but that they would continue to push for their privatization of the airport operations.
“We would say that this is nothing more than a delay really,” he said. “The problems facing Toledo Express and Toledo Executive are numerous. While this delays things, it in no way provides a solution.”
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. “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.”