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Should The Airport Be Sold?

June 12th, 2016 · 26 Comments · Analysis and Comment, City Budget, Development and Zoning, News and Events

airport

Aerial of airport

Sikorsky Memorial Airport is owned by the city but located in the Lordship section of Stratford where neighborhood residents aren’t exactly flying high about a modern aviation hub. Expansion opposition from Stratford, runway issues and decades of inaction all contribute to the airport’s financial drain on the city. About 25 years ago then-Governor Lowell Weicker considered a state purchase of the airport to infuse the cash-strapped city with new revenue, but balked at the thought of Stratford’s opposition and potential issues with the Federal Aviation Administration. About 20 years ago Donald Trump pondered a purchase of the airport property to build an Indianapolis-style racetrack that included a direct fly-in to events. Again opposition prevailed. City officials would like to market it for sale.

CT Post reporter Brian Lockhart has more:

But behind-the-scenes, Sikorsky is a financial headache for a city which struggles to balance its budget.

“The whole is the sum of the parts,” said John Ricci, the city’s director of public facilities. “The sum of the parts could be making money, but the whole is losing it.”

Ricci said Sikorsky is operating at a loss of around $500,000 a year, not including money Bridgeport needs to spend on upkeep and infrastructure improvements.

“You’re talking buildings now nearly 50 years old,” Ricci said. “Anything could go at any minute.”

It is not exactly a compelling sales pitch. Yet Ricci and Mayor Joe Ganim’s administration are contemplating getting Sikorsky off Bridgeport’s books by selling it to the state or, less likely, to a private operator.

“It could be a premiere general aviation (and) corporate airport,” Ricci said.

Full story here.

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26 Comments so far ↓

  • Phil Smith

    Fresh off the city council’s approval of the sale of a capital asset (City park land) in order to close a general fund deficit, the Ganim administration is now floating the idea of selling the airport. This isn’t a new idea. I think it’s fair to say every administration for the past 30 years has looked at this possibility… And quickly rejected it.
    There were several reasons why the idea has never gone anywhere.
    First, for a variety of reasons the State of Connecticut and now its Airport Authority are probably the only viable potential buyers;
    Second, the sale of the airport to the state would probably produce fierce opposition within the Town of Stratford, in part because the state has much more ability unilaterally with respect to the airport than the city does;
    Third, as the CT Post article indicated, the state is unlikely to pay cash for a money-losing airport.
    Fourth, as a practical/political reality if the state were to agree to acquire Sikorsky airport it would have to agree to acquire Tweed/New Haven, another money-losing, city-owned, airport in a suburban community.

  • Frank Gyure

    Thank you Phil Smith for a concise and accurate analysis of trying to sell Sikorsky Memorial Airport. The fact of the matter is there are NO BUYERS for the airport. The fact that Ganim and Ricci et al. (I’m sure Flatto is in the mix) can seriously talk about selling the airport shows the abject management and marketing skills (or lack thereof) of the Ganim Administration. We know 2nd chance Ganim is great at PR. This is a sign and message that other parts of Bridgeport are for sale as well.

  • Tom White

    For many years there has been agreement there are benefits of an airport, but Bridgeport should not be burdened with operating it. Bridgeport is no longer the economic engine of the region.
    The Connecticut Post story was simply about G2 floating the idea of getting Bridgeport out of the airport business.
    If the airport is not marketable privately (including the creation of an airport authority) or to the State of Connecticut, there is still the option of ending airport operations and avoiding the operational cost that the City of Bridgeport now pays for.
    As past mayors have been told, this would require sorting through the many contractual obligations with tenants and vendors as well as commitments made to the FAA for funding. This will take some time and effort and it should start now.

  • Phil Smith

    The airport unquestionably provides economic and economic development benefits to the city and the region. But that doesn’t mean the city and its taxpayers should be subsidizing the private owners and corporations that utilize the airport.
    The answer is actually fairly simple. The city needs to price the use of the airport’s facilities and services at a level that will cover the cost of operations and ongoing capital improvements and then manage operating and capital budgets accordingly.

    • Frank Gyure

      Phil Smith, I am curious. You state the “airport UNQUESTIONABLY provides economic developments to the city and the region.” Can you explain this on a qualitative level and, more important, on a quantitative level? Specifically, dollars coming into the area?

  • Donald Day

    Phil, can’t Bridgeport close it down, get rid of the tenants and then sell it to Stratford to build luxurious condos and homes overlooking Long Island Sound?

    • Frank Gyure

      I think a final decision needs to be made. Bridgeport needs to get out of the airport business and all the contractual and financial obligations. The airport is a dead end. It’s time to admit that and move forward.

      • Lisa Parziale

        Frank, that’s the commonsense approach. Phil is right, the sale of the Airport has been floating around for decades. There seem to be so many complexities involved that would require absolute focus and follow through to make this happen. Maybe someday.

    • Phil Smith

      I don’t remember all of the details, but my recollection is if it ceases to be used for an airport there is an obligation to repay all or part of the federal funds invested in the airport over the years.

      • Frank Gyure

        So we’re stuck with an airport that has a dubious future and questionable legal and financial obligations.

        • Phil Smith

          The simplest immediate solution is to set rates and charges at a level which will cover, at least, most of the operating deficit. That may take time to fully implement, due to long-term contracts, but there is no reason for Bridgeport taxpayers to subsidize private operators and corporations.

  • John Marshall Lee

    I would like to see the FINAL 2015 June monthly report to see the exact numbers posted in the 2014-15 FY with all line items provided. This has been a request to Ken Flatto for several months but he has declined to provide this report.

    Until 2012 we were never provided this annual closing statement for the operating budget although the Charter says this is an obligation each month. In 2012 Mayor Finch and Finance Sherwood/Norton/Lenz finally decided to follow the written word and provided such report marking it DRAFT and did nothing further with it.

    In December 2013, a new Council person, Trish Swain asked for the Final 2013 report, was asked to await the audit that came a month later and in 2013 and 2014 we got to see a full year, FINAL, with all adjustments noted and using the same numbers the external audit, the CAFR uses. We uncovered Tom McCarthy’s deception in the final days of 2013 where he offered Council persons the opportunity to “raid taxpayer funds” without ACCOUNTABILITY. He held a meeting with Council persons that was not noticed, without public agenda, and without minutes. But close to $30,000 was siphoned from the Legislative OTHER SERVICES account for 55 charitable checks. The City received no services and neither did the Council other than the fame and credit for delivering checks to local charities. A bonus for them and illegal in several ways but has passed without consequences.

    Now Ken Flatto says it is not necessary to do that, but will do it next year. And I have talked with Scott Burns on two occasions about the matter. Not much time is required to provide the same report we have gotten with all expense line items provided as well as revenue lines and variance columns. Enough rumors are circulating about Finch’s final “desperate days” with files missing, computers wiped, and last minute checks that would have caused commotion not to follow through with a FINAL report, Ken. How about it?

    And if additional past FY columns are used as in the past, this report will be helpful at budget time in the future. The five new members of B&A this year did not even have a chance to know what really happened from the previous year in summary form. Keep the Council and public ignorant of the full story. Keep the info flow limited and complicated (info on the Police and Fire Department are especially egregious examples).

    John Ricci knows how to operate profitably or at least balanced. He is in charge at a higher pay grade. Why doesn’t he provide a five-year plan that shows how to get to balanced? That also throws our $2 Million matching cash for FAA remedial action as part of the Sikorsky budget if it is represented by debt. If it is not, perhaps he will tell us where the $2 Mill flew in from. What is the timeline on having the airport at full capacity? Then we can have a City debate/discussion and sell tickets to it, with John Ricci and Tom McCarthy debating what happened in the Airport timeline that caused the driveway SAGA. Perhaps Bill Finch can emcee the event. Time will tell.

    • Frank Gyure

      I’m completely confused. I will admit I am way behind on the learning curve concerning analyzing city budget on a month to month basis. And I thought Flatto was supposed to be better than Sherwood.

  • Local Eyes

    For many reasons, the world of global transportation has changed. That airport has intrinsic worth. Scarcity creates value and airports are scarce. People of wealth are still building flying cars. That airport would be of enormous use to them due to its short take-off and easy landing. I will attempt to contact Larry Page of Google fame–he’s building flying cars–to gauge his interest. Its east coast location would be the starting point for a great pitch. Adding value to Bridgeport is my goal and my latest chance just dropped into my lap.

  • Mojo

    *** If the little-used airport has become a management, maintenance and cost problem for the city of Bpt, then maybe selling it is the way to go! It seems to have become over the years just a urban city money pit, no? ***

  • Jeff Kohut

    It would seem Bridgeport has become ground zero for a national epidemic of “de-imaginationitis,” AIDS of the human creative function, if you will.

    Places, such as Bridgeport and Detroit, where innovation and initiative were the catchwords and “the rule”–indeed, where verbs consistent with these nouns defined infectious aspects of the culture–have become places definable in terms of the lack of imagination/creativity and initiative by municipal government and the business community. (Truly, if it weren’t for accelerating REVERSE economic momentum, Bridgeport would be definable as the “municipal-inertia capital of the world.”)

    It is simply unbelievable that a key municipal transportation asset has been losing viability and economic altitude during a period of time where transportation has become one of the key focus areas of economic development and technological advancement.

    It is simply unbelievable that the municipal government and business community of a city in desperate need of long-term revenue sources cannot think of at least a couple of dozen ways to use one square mile of airport-zoned land to make money. UNBELIEVEABLE!!!

    If “stupid” were a commodity with cash value, Bridgeport’s financial problems would be over.

    Here we are with an available square mile of land that can used to move goods and people, even while it hosts any number of transportation-supported businesses, and all our municipal government and business community geniuses can think of is “sell it” or farm it out. UNBELIEVABLE!!

    Now, of course, a short runway must, of course, doom any air-transport options of Sikorsky Memorial Airport. NOT!!!

    Where-the-EPH was the HELICOPTER invented?! And what makes the HELICOPTER so versatile?!

    Of course, creating the world’s first major helicopter passenger and freight-transport center linked to BRIDGEPORT HARBOR with RAIL FREIGHT options serving any number of manufacturing, retail, and tourism (etc.) operations wouldn’t be something to use as an excuse to hold a BRBC luncheon/Blumenthal-Murphy-Himes photo-op session. Would it?!

    And of course, with the need for adoption of its business model to emphasize civilian/peacetime production as it seeks to support shareholder value/earnings and employment levels, SIKORSKY AIRCRAFT wouldn’t be interested in helping to promote greatly increased civilian uses of its existing HELICOPTER lines even as it seeks to expand and diversify the technology to accommodate modern passenger and transportation needs. Of course it wouldn’t.

    Unbelievable!!! Bridgeport, with its fantastic assets and incredible manufacturing/innovation heritage can’t think beyond dismantling itself piece by piece as it surrenders its assets to hostile municipalities and institutions.

    What OIB bloggers would be interested in joining with me to brainstorm a “new Bridgeport” that could be pitched as the comeback model for American manufacturing centers in time to raise this latter issue as a major consideration in this election cycle? This model would target specific industries/initiatives in a manner that goes way beyond simple anti-globalization policies. This model would define a government initiative that would provide money and assets, not simply outline policy. It would be defined by specifics and concrete measures.

    I would be interested in at least sharing ideas with other Bridgeporters about what we would like to see, in terms of economic development and leadership by local/state/federal government and the business community in this regard.

    Hey Lennie: How about organizing an OIB “retreat” on the above issue(s), maybe inviting some government and business leadership in this regard.

    Any OIB readers who would care to communicate with this blogger on this matter can contact me at JPKOHUT1@aol.com.

    THERE MUST BE SOME WAY WE CAN SHAME THE “RIGHT” PEOPLE IN BUSINESS AND GOVERNMENT INTO ACTUALLY PURSUING A POSITIVE, LOGICAL COURSE OF ACTION ON BEHALF OF BRIDGEPORT.

    The history of the treatment of Bridgeport by business and government during the past five decades has been shameful, even to a greater degree than we’d like to believe, criminal.
    This latest Bridgeport “fire sale” under consideration by the city should give us pause to actually think about and carefully consider short- and long-term economic policy for the city, before the lid is slammed shut on our municipal coffin.

    (Like the rest of the civilized world, I am utterly sickened by the unspeakable tragedy in Orlando. I mention it here by way offering prayers for the victims and their families and friends, as well as the rest of us, since all civilized human beings were victimized by the inhuman, mindless, savage, utterly evil elements that share responsibility for this horrible episode of hateful depravity. To the extent possible, perhaps we should try to focus on improving life around us even as we can’t block this sickening tragedy out of our minds. Maybe think about a prosperous, happy Bridgeport as we try to deal with the thoughts and repercussions of Orlando.)

    • BOE SPY

      You make no sense. You are against regional services like the sewer and train but support the airport? The airport is little more than a glorified airplane yacht club. Rich people using BPT resources to have their toy air-o-planes at a reduced expense. Look at the list of airports in CT:
      en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_airports_in_Connecticut
      None of the cities on the list are wealthy. The airports have not helped their economic situation at all. The cities with airports that closed are actually doing better than when the airports were open. Other than human organs, no one moves freight in small private aircraft and only the super wealthy travel by helicopter. No town near the airport has been lifted up by its presence. If anything, these towns are dragged down by BPT.

  • Frank Gyure

    Jeff Kohut, thought-provoking posting. THANK YOU. A lot of good points. One question is in many of your posts you refer to manufacturing as a key part of a possible Bridgeport revival. I have significant doubts. Bridgeport may possibly present some opportunities for light manufacturing in specialized eco-parks. I think Bridgeport needs to present itself with opportunities for small businesses and I believe the true key is affordable PRIVATE housing( some public assistance housing). However we are looking at a situation where the housing infrastructure in BPT is at a breaking point with the property tax situation. As it stands now, I see little reason for investment or re-investment in Bridgeport housing. We are dangerously close to property owners simply abandoning and walking away from properties as the financial numbers become untenable.

  • Steven Auerbach

    Imagine how much more in demand Stamford CT would be if they had an airport 5 minutes to its many Office Towers. Imagine if Bridgeport had the ability to attract these corporate giants instead of back-room operations. What’s in a name? If it remains an airport and someone else shoulders the costs, go for it. If it becomes condos on a mosquito-infested swamp it is a great loss to our city. My rose-colored glasses have had a vision of Bridgeport for nearly 45 years and I am as optimistic as ever. So far, the new administration has not made any announcements of any new developments that weren’t already underway under Mayor Finch. Getting rid of city properties is a throwback to Mayor Moran when we declared bankruptcy. Time to shit or get off the pot as the saying goes. The economy is improving, now is the time to be marketing the city and Sikorsky Memorial Airport is still one of our underutilized treasures.

  • Joel Gonzalez

    Ricci said Sikorsky is operating at a loss of around $500,000 a year, not including money Bridgeport needs to spend on upkeep and infrastructure improvements.

    “You’re talking buildings now nearly 50 years old,” Ricci said. “Anything could go at any minute.”

    Ricci is right about the buildings being nearly 50 years old. During those 50 years there has been much improvement and upkeep too. What happened to the $40 Million in improvements with federal dollars coming after expansion of the runway? Manny’s driveway was supposedly necessary in order to expand the runway and avoid having blood on our hands.

  • Jeff Kohut

    Frank: Thanks for the kind, positive words. Let me say clearly, right off, I believe safe, modern, affordable housing set in safe, peaceful, walkable, family-friendly environments convenient to schools, necessary commodity shopping, and medical essential services is the sine qua non of successful, prosperous cities. Ideally, all housing would be well-served by mass transportation options. Indeed, I will agree abundant, good housing of the aforementioned description is one of the defining features of a viable city.

    That being said: I am FOR the replacement of all substandard housing in Bridgeport, as well as for the creation of enough new housing to accommodate Bridgeport-based growing and upwardly mobile families and upwardly mobile individuals and families seeking to relocate to Bridgeport, as well young persons seeking their independence who desire to remain in Bridgeport into adulthood and start their own families here. Additionally, I am not against a modicum of “surplus” housing needed to accommodate persons displaced by misfortune (fire, flooding, etc.) in Bridgeport or from other locales.

    However, I don’t see how creating more housing merely to grow our population base is going to help a city such as Bridgeport. It would seem this only plays into our municipal liabilities. If the creation of housing isn’t part of a well-reasoned, evidence-based plan to grow the Bridgeport economy/tax base, then such housing creation is very likely only going to contribute to our municipal economic distress even as it crowds out lucrative tax base and jobs growth.

    A case in point is the creation of downtown housing. This decades-old process has yet to stabilize downtown business, let alone spark a downtown renaissance. With nearly 150,000 people living in Bridgeport, we hardly need to grow more of our population base of Bridgeporters to patronize our downtown. What we do need are tens of thousands of Bridgeport-based living-wage jobs that provide the paychecks/disposable income needed by Bridgeporters to support unique and varied entertainment and retail offerings conveniently accessible in our downtown. The success of Fairfield’s downtown speaks to just such a confluence of offerings and a prosperous local population base.

    Regarding the role of manufacturing in a Bridgeport revival: Inasmuch as well-paying jobs married to high-value tax base is the only formula/framework that can describe a Bridgeport economic revival, we can only look to a handful of economic sectors to provide this for the Bridgeport demographic. These sectors are definable in terms of only manufacturing, high-value retail, and basic financial services, factories, department stores, and banks. We can throw in a few other things to round things out, such as hospitality/tourism/arts-and-entertainment, but the staples, for the Bridgeport demographic need to be factories, banks, and retail, just like when we were prosperous before.

    If not the aforementioned, then what other ventures could bring prosperity back to Bridgeport? (And if we were prosperous once, why can’t we be prosperous again?! Have we become a radioactive geographic area populated by untrainable mutants?!)

  • BOE SPY

    Sorry folks, but airports, yacht clubs and golf courses do not seem to be economic engines. They just seem to be taxpayer subsidized playgrounds so rich people have a place to play with their toys and politicians have more patronage jobs. This was fine when BPT was a wealthy community, but now, not so much. There is no money in owning an airport. Of the 21 airports in CT:
    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_airports_in_Connecticut
    only nine are privately owned. The rest are owned by the city or state. *note–The last six single line entry airports are little more than flat, grassy fields. If airports were a profitable business there would be a lot more privately owned airports.

    There is the possibility for a private buyer for Sikorsky. The following airports in CT are privately owned.

    Chester Airport (ICAO: KSNC, FAA LID: SNC) is a public use airport located three miles (5 km) southwest of the central business district of Chester, a town in Middlesex County, Connecticut, United States. It is privately owned by Whelen Aviation.

    Simsbury Airport (FAA LID: 4B9) is a public use airport located in Simsbury and East Granby, both towns in Hartford County, Connecticut, United States. It is privately owned by the Airport Realty Association, LLC.

    Ellington Airport (FAA LID: 7B9) is a privately owned, public use airport located two nautical miles (4 km) north of the central business district of Ellington, a town in Tolland County, Connecticut, United States.

    Salmon River Airfield (FAA LID: 9B8). Salmon River Airfield Associated.

    Candlelight Farms Airport (FAA LID: 11N) Terry McClinch.

    Toutant Airport (FAA LID: C44) Roland J. Toutant.

    Skylark Airport (FAA LID: 7B6) Skylark Airport, Inc.

    Waterbury Airport (FAA LID: N41) Killcourse, Shade & Seymour.

    Gardner Lake Airport (FAA LID: CT08) Raymond J. Snarski.

    It is of little consequence to BPT who owns the airport after them as long as it turns into cash and the liability goes away. If Sikorsky stays an airport BPT will see the same benefit and the land is in Stratford.

  • Bob Walsh

    I remember when John Ricci was head of the airport. Whenever he came before the council at budget time and the sale of the airport came up, he would tell us there is no way we can sell the airport. No government entity would buy it and if a private entity bought it, just like Phil posted, we were told they would have repay all the federal grants that were used at the airport.
    Was it self preservation or pure BS?
    Inquiring minds want to know.

  • Mojo

    *** SELL, SELL, SELL! ***

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