Steelpointe developer argues Bridgeport should have offered major lease to Sikorsky Airport to bid

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BRIDGEPORT — City officials say revenue from a new lease with a longtime major tenant at Sikorsky Memorial Airport will eliminate that facility’s longstanding annual operating deficit, better positioning the site for a purchase. by the state.

But the proposed 20-year duration of the contract with Atlantic Aviation is questioned, as is the decision not to put it in competition.

“My biggest problem is just the lack of a competitive process,” Robert Christoph Jr., the prominent Steelpointe developer and owner of Three Wing Aviation, another Sikorsky stalwart, Bridgeport-owned and Stratford-based, said this week. . “It shouldn’t happen without a competitive process so the public can understand they got the best deal.”

He said Three Wing would “absolutely” have made its own proposal for the occupied Atlantic zone.

The city, in a statement to Hearst Connecticut Media, admitted that a competitive process “was not pursued,” but touted the financial and other benefits of keeping Atlantic as a tenant. When a city department spends more than $25,000, it must bid under procurement guidelines, but officials said this does not apply to leasing public property.

And the Federal Aviation Administration, which regulates many operations at Sikorsky, said Thursday, “Local procurement laws govern the process for renewing this lease at Sikorsky Memorial Airport. The FAA is not involved.

Sikorsky is currently used by business, charter and private aircraft. The goal is also to restore regular commercial passenger service once the city reaches an agreement to sell the facility to the Connecticut Airport Authority. The authority, which operates Bradley International and a handful of other Connecticut airports, recently offered a maximum of $10 million for Sikorsky.

In February, Michelle Muoio, the director of Sikorsky, presented the Bridgeport airport commission with a proposed 20-year lease with Atlantic Aviation. The national company has operated hangars at the Stratford site for more than three decades and provides airmen with a host of services, from refueling and de-icing to baggage, catering and accommodation services.

According to Muoio, the rental rate would drop from about $310,000 per year to $1.1 million, plus $300,000 in new fees.

Muoio pointed out to members of the airport commission that the difference in the rental rate alone “represents approximately the current operating deficit of the airport, so that was quite exciting.”

She also noted that Bridgeport is in a good negotiating position as the majority of other local airports are full.

But a vote to keep Atlantic as a tenant was delayed last month by commissioner Aidee Nieves, chairman of the Bridgeport City Council. Nieves said she has concerns about the 20-year term of the lease and how it takes into account ongoing negotiations with the state.

“I don’t want to vote now. I don’t feel comfortable doing it,” Nieves had said.

The authority was supposed to meet again last Tuesday, but that meeting was canceled.

In addition to Nieves’ questions, Christoph raised his own about why other companies weren’t given the opportunity by Bridgeport to submit their own proposals for the lease occupied by Atlantic. He and his father, Robert Sr., developers of Bridgeport’s Steelepointe harbor parcel, purchased Three Wing about three years ago and recently partnered with Atlantic and the city to fund a study of the economic potential of the airport.

“I asked (why the lease was not offered). I get the answer that it’s a lot for Bridgeport and we should move on, which is not an answer,” Christoph said. “I have nothing against the Atlantic. I think they’re a great organization. They’re impressive. They’ve done some good things in their growth. … It’s just the lack of a competitive process that I find appalling.

Addressing the length of the lease, Muoio in an email Wednesday to Hearst Connecticut wrote that two decades “is pretty standard for similar airport leases because … tenants hope to amortize their investment over time.” .

“This particular parcel requires future capital improvements and major maintenance as well as investment to improve aesthetics along Main Street (in Stratford),” she added. She said Atlantic also agreed to fund some “very expensive” utility upgrades.

Muoio did not say Bridgeport would have been barred from bidding on the Atlantic lease. Instead, she argued, the city last year issued “a request for information” to private entities broadly interested in investing in Sikorsky, and Three Wing responded but at the time had not shown any interest in the Atlantic site.

“Atlantic was the only registered entity to communicate a formal desire to improve and lease this particular parcel. Therefore, a competitive bid was not pursued,” Muoio said.

Atlantic, in a statement Thursday, said the company “followed the information request process that the city and the airport requested last year, which was a public process and open to all parties interested in this time”.

“Atlantic has enjoyed a positive and respectful relationship with the airport, the City of Bridgeport and the City of Stratford over the past three decades. We expect this to continue,” the company said. “We are proud of our past relationship with the airport, and we have invested millions of dollars in this lease over the past few years and plan to invest millions more under our lease extension. These improvements will not only benefit the surrounding communities of Stratford and Bridgeport, but also the airport’s airline community.

Meanwhile, Kevin Dillon, executive director of the Connecticut Airport Authority, said in an interview last month “we have no concerns” about the proposed deal with Atlantic.

“They (the city) have discussed the matter with us and we are fully aware of the parameters of the lease,” Dillon said. “I think it’s a good deal for the airport. Whether or not it fully addresses deficits in the future is a bit of a moving target, unfortunately sometimes. (But) it certainly goes a long way toward breaking even. »

In 2016, when the city was initially talking about selling Sikorsky to the authority, Dillon, referring to the facility’s operating deficit, said, “We wouldn’t be interested in paying money for another airport that loses revenue.”


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