Business Council Coalition Says Westchester Airport Future in Jeopardy

Real Estate In-Depth | September 2018

From left, Frank Williams, executive director, White Plains Youth Bureau; Lauren Rones-Payne, general manager HPN, Million Air; Sean Meade, president, Westchester Hotel Association; Deb Milone, executive director, Hudson Valley Gateway Chamber of Commerce; John Ravitz, executive vice president, Business Council of Westchester; Marsha Gordon, president and CEO of the Business Council of Westchester; George Kleros, senior vice president, Strategic Event & Fleet Support, Jet Support Services, Inc. and Westchester Aircraft Maintenance Association Board Member; Milly H. Becker, CEO, Skyqueen Enterprises and Chris O’Callaghan, managing director, Jones Lang LaSalle.

RYE BROOK—Concerned that the future of Westchester County Airport is in jeopardy, the Business Council of Westchester has launched the Coalition for Westchester Airport, consisting of a broad range of businesses, labor organizations, educators, non-profits and residents in support of what they term as one of the county’s most valuable assets.

The coalition has come out in support of privatization efforts at the airport. Last month, Westchester County Executive George Latimer said that any potential new privatization plan would be up to the County Board of Legislators to consider.

Latimer, while not shelving a more than $1-billion plan proposed by the Astorino administration last year, did tell reporters that his administration does not want to relinquish control of the airport and considers it a “transportation hub” and not a “piggy bank.”

“Just as the BCW led the charge to build the new Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge, we are now focusing on another crucially important element of Westchester’s transportation and economic infrastructure—the Westchester County Airport,” said Marsha Gordon, president and CEO of the BCW. “We are representing the interests of the traveling community, the business community and the neighboring community, to make sure that all interests are heard, respected and balanced. The future of Westchester County Airport is at stake, and we all have a stake in the airport.”

During a news conference at the BCW headquarters in Rye Brook, the coalition urged residents to learn the facts and sign an online petition at CoalitionforWestchesterAirport.org. The petition will automatically be sent via e-mail to Westchester County Executive George Latimer and members of the Board of Legislators. The coalition also announced the start of a robust informational campaign that will roll out across the county in coming weeks to continue to unite stakeholders.

“The airport is crucially important to attract and retain a wide spectrum of businesses that bolster the local economy and strengthen the tax base,” says John Ravitz, executive vice president of the BCW. “The airport also is a valuable tool for workforce development, and directly and indirectly employs thousands of people in diverse industries. Yet the airport is under threat. The last thing we want is for Westchester to take 10 steps backwards because a relatively small but well-organized group of opponents has mobilized and dominated the discussion.”

Coalition speakers included: Deb Milone, executive director, Hudson Valley Gateway Chamber of Commerce; George Kleros, senior vice president, Strategic Event & Fleet Support, Jet Support Services, Inc. and Westchester Aircraft Maintenance Association Board Member; Lauren Rones-Payne, general manager HPN, Million Air; Chris O’Callaghan, managing director, Jones Lang LaSalle; Sean Meade, president, Westchester Hotel Association and Frank Williams, executive director, White Plains Youth Bureau.

The Coalition for Westchester Airport has already attracted support from a diverse group, including but not limited to the following companies: Accreditation Guru; AllShows; Altium Wealth; Business of Your Business, LLC; Cappelli Organization; D&M Electrical; Federated Insurance; Hilton Westchester; Hudson Valley Gateway Chamber of Commerce; JDM Benefits; Madison Approach; Maier Markey & Justic LLP; Mastercard; Million Air; Nicholas & Lence Communications; OLA Consulting Engineers; Red Oak Transportation; Robert Martin Company, LLC; Singer Law; Statewide Abstract Corp; Thalle Industries; Walison Corp.; Westchester Aircraft Maintenance Assoc.; the Westchester Hotel Association; Wilkes Law Group; and York International Agency, among other individuals.

The coalition is calling on the county to support an approach that provides high-quality air travel while protecting the environment and respecting the airport’s residential neighbors. The Coalition does not advocate for enlarging the airport, but does call for making reasonable enhancements that would improve the airport’s existing services and facilities, stating that a public/private partnership would work well in Westchester.

Westchester County Airport has been successfully operating for 70 years, always under private management selected by and reporting to the county. A public/private partnership—as had been extensively studied under the previous administration and representatives of the Board of Legislators—would bring in a partner with a proven track record of addressing many of the noise and environmental concerns. The county would still retain overall control of the airport, and no expansion or major changes could be undertaken without a vote of the Board of Legislators. No expansion has been proposed.

“The 2017 Request for Proposal process for a proposed public/private partnership required an in-depth study of the issues confronting the airport and its operations. The current Chairman of the County Board of Legislators, Benjamin Boykin, and the chair of its Infrastructure Committee, MaryJane Shimsky, were on the review team and are familiar with these studies,” Ravitz said. “As part of the ongoing review process, we recommend that the information in the RFP responses be examined by the current board. Included in them are practical and effective ways of addressing many of the issues surrounding the airport, including concerns about environmental and noise protections.”

Deb Milone, executive director of the Hudson Valley Gateway Chamber of Commerce, said, “It is time to put aside the hysteria and misconceptions being spread and focus on the facts. The Public Private Partnership will improve the airport’s infrastructure and environment at no cost to the county taxpayer, as well as unlock trapped revenue from the airport and provide the county with a long-term revenue stream that can be used to fix our highways, improve our parks and provide essential services.”

George Kleros, senior vice president, Strategic Event & Fleet Support, Jet Support Services, Inc., and Board Member of the Westchester Aircraft Maintenance Association (WAMA), added, “

Chris O’Callaghan, managing director, Jones Lang LaSalle, said, “The airport is an incredible asset to our existing business community. If we don’t invest and enhance our airport, businesses and individuals that rely on it, will continue to leave,” noting that the commercial real estate sector in Westchester has been decimated over the last 30 years by the loss of thousands of jobs.

The downsizings by major corporations pushing efficiencies by relocating jobs to lower taxed, lower cost states has resulted in no new speculative office development in 30 years. The supply of office space has been reduced by eliminating office buildings that have become completely obsolete. He said he expects this trend to continue due to the age of the office product, and the lack of acceptable amenities provided.

“Office buildings sell for 30%-50% of replacement value just because of lack of demand and rents that only support that percentage of value,” O’Callaghan said.

Last November, former Westchester County Executive Robert Astorino announced he had selected Macquarie Infrastructure Corporation to operate Westchester County Airport as part of a $1.1-billion public-private partnership.

Macquarie was the unanimous choice of a bi-partisan task force made up of members of the Astorino administration and the Board of Legislators to evaluate the three proposals received in April 2017 to manage, operate, maintain and improve the airport under a long-term lease. However, that plan was not ratified by the County Board of Legislators prior to Astorino leaving office.