Latimer to Take Another Look at Westchester Airport Privatization Plan

John Jordan | May 2018

Westchester County Airport. Photo Credit: westchestergov.com

WHITE PLAINS—Consistent with his campaign position on the privatization plan put forward by previous County Executive Robert Astorino, Westchester County Executive George Latimer has begun a process to revisit whether privatizing Westchester County Airport is such a good idea.

The announcement of a study of the Westchester County Airport proposal comes weeks after the Latimer Administration reported it would be thoroughly reviewing the privatization contract that is in place with Standard Amusements to operate Rye Playland under a long-term agreement.

Astorino announced on Nov. 9th that he had selected Macquarie Infrastructure Corporation to operate Westchester County Airport as part of a $1.1-billion public-private partnership. However, the airport privatization plan was never approved by the Westchester County Board of Legislators.

Latimer, at a press conference at the County Office Building in White Plains on May 16, said he was launching a multi-faceted plan that will include submitting an airport master plan to the Federal Aviation Administration. To avoid losing a $1.38 million grant, and to avoid jeopardizing future FAA grants, Latimer said the county will be submitting a master plan authored by the Astorino Administration without prejudice. However, it would begin immediately working on a supplement to that master plan that would incorporate additional public input and a full County Board of Legislators review.

“We are laying out a process, without presuming what the final product will be, that results in a combination of citizen input, legislative discussion, Executive Branch review, input from professionals who run the airport and ultimately public policy that is set by my office and the Board of Legislators,” Latimer said. “This is what I believe has been missing in terms of dealing with airport issues. We have a responsibility to get to the best public policy with public input.”

Latimer did not rule out pursuing privatization or Macquarie’s proposal, although he floated the idea of perhaps holding discussions with other bidders for the project since no contract had been finalized. He did say that the county might have to refund any monies given to the county by Macquarie if it entertains other bids.

While stating that the county is not eliminating any of the bidders for the privatization initiative at Westchester County Airport, he told reporters, “The first question is do we do this at all? And then if we decide we are going to do it, if there is a consensus… that becomes a process we then look at.”

However, he later related that the county is not anywhere near that consensus, noting, “You can’t do ‘the deal’ until you discuss the (privatization) policy that underlies the deal.” During the press briefing, Latimer stressed that the county has no intention of expanding operations at the airport.

The administration’s airport plan calls for having the Board of Legislators review the airport’s governance and the possibility of privatizing management of the airport.

The Latimer Administration will conduct a thorough review of every facet of airport operations, researching the external concerns over flight volume, noise, drainage, environmental impact, flight paths, landing altitudes, type of equipment used, frequency, curfews, operations of Fixed Base Operators (FBO), parking, etc.

Macquarie was the unanimous choice of a bi-partisan task force made up of members of the Astorino administration and the Board of Legislators last year. Macquarie’s winning proposal was to net the county $1.145 billion over the course of a 40-year lease—a $595-million financial offer accompanied by $550 million in capital funds to maintain and improve the airport’s infrastructure. Under the terms of the lease, the county was to receive just over $300 million upfront, which was to include lease payments, money transferred to the general fund from county money locked at the airport and various reimbursements.

The firm issued a statement in response to County Executive Latimer’s airport plan, which stated. “Macquarie Infrastructure Corporation continues to believe in the merits of a revised and sustainable management approach to Westchester County Airport. We respect the County Executive’s decision to thoroughly engage the public in a robust and open discussion of this valuable component of Westchester’s infrastructure, and we stand ready to participate in the discussion as he and his team deem appropriate.”

The county plans to hold the following meetings to obtain community input on various airport operations and the formulation of the supplement to the airport’s master plan:

Master Plan- June 6
7:00 p.m.
Rye Brook Village Hall
938 King Street
Rye Brook, NY 10573

Governance – June 11
7:00 p.m.
Hergenhan Recreation Center
40 Maple Avenue
Armonk, NY 10504

Operations – June 25
7:00 p.m.
West Harrison Senior Center
251 Underhill Ave.
West Harrison, NY 10604

On June 4th, Westchester County Executive Latimer announced the appointment of four new members to the Westchester County Airport Advisory Board. The Board serves as the liaison between the community and county government.

A number of the Airport Advisory Board members are residents who are required by law to live in specific surrounding communities, including the Town of Rye, the Town of Harrison, The Town of Mount Pleasant, the Town of North Castle and the Town of New Castle.

The newly appointed Airport Advisory Board members are Robert Fleisher of Chappaqua, Principal of Perch Lake Capital LLC; Tracy Levy of Pleasantville, a Westchester County resident for the past 14 years; Peter Schlactus of Rye Brook, the managing director and practice leader at Risk Strategies Co. and Jonathan Wang of Purchase, the co-founder and executive director of Citizens for a Responsible County Airport.

Earlier this year, County Legislator Nancy Barr of Rye Brook was selected by Board of Legislators Chair Ben Boykin to serve on the Advisory Board and new DPW Commissioner Hugh Greechan has also begun his service as an ex-officio voting member.

 

John Jordan
Editor, Real Estate In-Depth