Council Member Sheryl Cole said the potential revenue from a lease makes the concept worth exploring.
But other council members have reservations.
Brewster McCracken said that although it might not be legally required, he believes that the public ought to weigh in on a potential airport lease.
"My sense is that we have to take this to the voters, as a practical matter," McCracken said, adding that voters approved issuing $400 million in long-term debt to build the airport in the first place. Smith said the city owes $370 million in revenue bonds on the airport, money that would have to be repaid even if the city leases the airport.
"Frankly, I don't view this as very likely, because there are a lot of things that have to happen," McCracken said.
Lee Leffingwell said he is skeptical about the idea but is willing to listen to any proposals.
"It is only a conversation worth having in my view because of all the money involved," Leffingwell said.
No one involved at this point has any idea what a private contractor would offer. A multidecade lease of Midway Airport, according to various published estimates, could fetch $2 billion to $3 billion. That airport had almost 19 million passengers board and land there last year; Austin-Bergstrom had 8.2 million.
But the city would have to sacrifice some, if not all, control over the operation of the airport, and Leffingwell said he would be averse to losing that control. Leffingwell, Cole and Council Member Mike Martinez agreed that voters should have a say in letting go of the airport.
The ideas abound on how Austin might use that potential windfall.
Street and drainage infrastructure seem to top the list for several council members. State Rep. Mike Krusee, a Williamson County Republican who has been heavily involved in Austin issues as House Transportation Committee chairman, has been talking to Austin officials about leasing the airport and suggests that the money could be used to build a passenger rail line to the airport.
But Martinez cautioned against getting too giddy about the notional bankroll.
"This is a not a perpetual funding source," Martinez said.
Martinez said he was concerned that if the airport were handed over to a private entity, current policies to promote Central Texas businesses and give the airport a local vibe with Austin-based restaurants and live music would be lost.
"I doubt you would see such a commitment and investment from a private investor," Martinez said.
Not necessarily, Wynn said.
"Obviously we could write into any deed restriction or long-term lease things like environmental controls, worker protections, even design features," he said. "So we could essentially still control elements of the look, feel or taste of that airport."
Some considerations for Austin
* Austin could get a large infusion of money that could be used for other city purposes. Currently, all airport revenue has to be used for the airport.
* Austin would probably have to give up at least some control over airport operations. The more control Austin retained, the less money the city could get.
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