Branson Airport is about as private as Dr. Jekyll is “Cinderella”

At least five times this week the Ole Seagull has heard it said, “The airport can do whatever it wants to do because it’s private.” That’s true if the airport is truly private, but from its inception, to this point, that makes about as much sense as saying Dr. Jekyll is “Cinderella.”

The “private issue” reared its head when the airport recently announced that under its exclusive agreement with Branson Gray Line for certain ground transportation services at the airport, there would be a prohibition against all other providers of ground transportation picking up anyone at the airport. The net effect was if a group of 20 people had made arrangements through a tour company in Milwaukee to travel to Branson via AirTran they could not be picked up at the Branson Airport by the same company they had previously been using, unless it just happened to be Branson Gray Line.

Regardless of how that issue is ultimately worked out, the first flip answer people tended to give was, “That’s ok, it’s a private airport they can do what they want.” This evidently as opposed to virtually every other commercial airport in the united States which is owned and financed by a government entity and must comply with applicable laws pertaining to the disclosure of information, awarding of contracts, providing of services, etc.

May an Ole Seagull suggest that, at the very least, this is the first airport of its type in the country and there is no automatic precedent that can broadly and so blithely be applied to its operation? To him, it is obvious that “but for” the involvement of the city of Branson and its commitment to pay up to $60 million over a period of 30 years that Branson Airport LLC, the Delaware based corporation owning and operating the Branson Airport, might still be looking for the financing necessary to get the project off the ground.

An article published in the latter half of 2007 in 417 Magazine entitled, “Up in the Air” said, “In 2006, then-mayor Lou Shaffer signed a pay-for-performance agreement. For every inbound passenger, the City of Branson is to pay $8.24—an amount that was calculated using the projected tax revenue generated by each visitor. Annually, the amount cannot exceed $2 million, and the city is more or less locked into the agreement for 30 years. Taney County declined a similar deal.”

In an official city of Branson press release relating to the final issuing of the bonds for the financing of the “private” airport, Branson Airport LLC President and CEO Steve Peet said “We would like to thank both the city of Branson and Taney County for their efforts and cooperation over the last several years in getting us to this point. In particular, the city’s ‘pay for performance’ contract was a key ingredient in the successful financing.”

The official city release went on to quote, then Branson City Administrator Terry Dody as saying “The bond sale culminates about a five year process of combined efforts between the Branson Airport officials and city of Branson aldermen and staff to develop a financing package that would be appealing to the bond investors.” Dody continues, “It’s a compliment to this partnership and this project that the $113 million bonds were placed quickly and well over subscribed.”

An Ole Seagull has a tough time with the concept that the airport is “private” when the taxpayers of the city of Branson are obligated to pay up to $2 million per year to the “private” airport. Does the verbiage “combined efforts between the Branson Airport officials and city of Branson aldermen and staff to develop a financing package that would be appealing to the bond investors” sound “private” or more a “public private partnership?

Did a Jan. 25 online report in the St. Louis Post-DispatchMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News report that “the Branson Airport received a $332,000 air-service development grant from the Missouri Department of Transportation?” Is the Branson Airport receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in marketing assistance and preference from the Branson Lakes Area Tourism Community Enhancement District (TCED)? Since its existence how much has the TCED spent to promote the low cost air fare at the Springfield/Branson Airport?

“But Seagull, the Branson Airport is a private airport.” Sure and Dr. Jekyll is “Cinderella.”