Letter: Bird’s-eye view of airport acquisition

From: C. Dean Smith


After reading Nancy Warren’s misinformed attempt to set the record straight on the airport acquisition history (published Oct. 2 in The Republic), I am compelled to add my first-hand account.

As the city planning director, I was a member of the Mayor’s Task Force charged with negotiating the disposition of the airport property from the federal government to the city government. Other participants in our delegation to the Governmental Services Administration at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., were Bill Marshall, city attorney; Charlie Eliot, redevelopment director; and Bud Kline, city mayor.

In the pecking order established by GSA, the state had to sign off after other units at the federal level, and then came the turn of local units of government, i.e., the city, the county and the school board.

The mayor was able to get the other governmental units to also sign off in favor of the city due to the close proximity of city development. Thus, the deed was done: 2,000 acres for $1.

I am sure that our unity was a favorable factor. There was some language in the transfer about not bestowing unfair advantage on airport properties in terms of competition with the rest of the city’s tax base. For example, do airport businesses pay taxes, maintenance and liability costs as do other properties in the city? I would guess much of that has been swept under the rug by the Aviation Board, the city entity given the operation of the airport. Are current plans for shopping centers and housing consistent with the original agreement?

From Day 1, the Aviation Board claimed autonomy and immunity from local cooperative efforts, mainly due to the hostility of some of their board members. Nowhere in the state planning statutes were aviation facilities exempted from the city master plan. The Aviation Board’s accountability to the city continues to be a mystery.

One other fond memory is our late-night victory dinner upon the return of the Task Force at the KingFish restaurant in Louisville. Mission accomplished. Too bad the good things in life don’t last long.