Departing Westchester County executive still wants airport P3 to take off

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Westchester County Executive Robert Astorino is keeping up his push to privatize of the county’s airport despite losing his reelection bid last week.

Astorino, who fell to Democratic State Sen. George Latimer on Election Day, announced late last week that the county selected Macquarie Infrastructure Corp. to operate Westchester County Airport as part a proposed $1.1 billion public-private partnership. The Republican county executive also touted the airport plan when announcing his $1.8 billion 2018 budget Monday saying Macquarie’s winning proposal of $595 million would net the county $1.145 billion over the course of a 40-year lease.

The lease deal faces obstacles, with Astorino set to leave office in January and the proposal requiring 12 votes from the county’s 17-member Board of Legislators. Latimer said Wednesday he wants more time to study the proposal from Macquarie and that no decision should be made before the end of the year.

"To commit Westchester to a multi-year deal in the waning days of this administration is unconscionable,” said Latimer, who defeated Astorino with 57% of the vote. “This decision deserves a full public vetting, and a vote on its own merits."

The airport is in White Plains about 30 miles north of Manhattan. It is served by United, American, JetBlue and Delta.

Under the Macquarie proposal, Westchester would receive just over $300 million upfront under terms of the lease and could use $30 million toward the 2018 budget, according to Astorino. In future years, the large suburban county would receive $6.5 million annually from the lease and also be reimbursed $10 million for yearly airport police costs. The reimbursements would then increase 2.5% a year over the 40-year period and total $674 million.

“By receiving money up front and then spreading payments over the course of the lease, the county has created a guaranteed revenue stream of more than $6 million a year to pay for county services,” said Astorino in a statement. “This is the opposite of a ‘one shot’ financial transaction. It’s 40 years of recurring revenues.”

Macquarie was the unanimous choice of a bi-partisan task force comprised of Astorino administration members and the Board of Legislators. It was selected despite the county receiving a higher bid of $626 million from HPN Aviation Group. Astorino said Macquarie committed $550 million for capital improvements compared to $271 million from HPN Aviation, which bid as part of a joint venture between Oaktree Transportation and Connor Capital Transportation Opportunities. FerroStar Westchester Airport Partners, a consortium made up of Ferrovial Airports International and Star America Fund, placed third among bidders.

Westchester hired New York City-based financial consulting firm Frasca & Associates earlier this year to assist with the operator search. Frasca has advised on 17 P3 deals since its founding in 1997 including privatizations of Stewart International Airport in New Windsor, N.Y. and San Juan, Puerto Rico's Luis Muñoz Marín Airport.

Astorino originally struck a $140 million deal with Los Angeles-based Oaktree Capital Management in November 2016, but county legislators pushed to open the process through a request for proposals. The county issued an RFP on April 3 with the initial goal of selecting an airport operator on Aug. 21.

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Public-private partnership Transportation industry Budgets County of Westchester, NY New York