Stratford Council Asks Bridgeport Peers to Sell Sikorsky Airport to Town

July 27, 2022

Jul. 27—STRATFORD — Members of the local town council have appealed to their peers in Bridgeport to consider Stratford Mayor Laura Hoydick's offer to purchase the city-owned, town-based Sikorsky Memorial Airport.

"I know our council is unified in requesting the opportunity to be considered," Christopher Pia, the Stratford Town Council's chairman, said in an interview this week. "I believe the mayor put forth a very, very strong offer. I support her and we're asking for them ( Bridgeport's City Council) to truly consider us and her request."

Pia was referring to a bipartisan letter, dated July 11 and signed by himself and his nine colleagues. Pia and five of his fellow aldermen are Republicans like Hoydick, with the other four members registered Democrats. They asked their 20 Bridgeport counterparts — all Democrats — to "reject" an offer from the Connecticut Airport Authority "and create an open bidding process that will give the Town of Stratford the opportunity to purchase the airport."

Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim's Democratic administration for the past few years has been seeking ways to revive regular commercial passenger service at Sikorsky, which currently caters to business, charter and private planes. That effort resulted in talks to either sell or lease the facility to the CAA, which operates Bradley International and five other state-owned airports and which, CAA and Bridgeport officials have argued, has the expertise and resources to bring back passenger service.

In February the CAA's board made a formal offer of $10 million for Sikorsky and in March Hoydick's administration went public with its interest, eventually putting $13 million on the table. But in early May the Sikorsky Airport Authority voted to accept the CAA's proposal, the details of which are currently being finalized to forward to the Bridgeport City Council for review and final approval.

Daniel Roach, the Ganim aide who has been working on the airport sale, said Tuesday the aim is to get the deal to the legislative body in early September.

Roach dismissed the Hoydick administration's persistence.

"It didn't work with the airport commission, so she's trying to work the City Council now," he said, adding, "The CAA is best suited to work with the Federal Aviation Administration to expedite the process (of reviving regular commercial passenger service), more so than if the city retained ownership or if Stratford took ownership."

The letter from Stratford council members to Bridgeport echoes the same arguments Hoydick has been making these last few months — that the Windsor Locks-based CAA will be a "remote" upstate owner while Stratford officials will be more sensitive and more responsive to local interests and concerns.

One question is whether that sensitivity will result in either scaled back or no commercial passenger flights given the opposition some in Stratford have expressed over the years to expanded operations at Sikorsky.

" Stratford will never allow commercial flights," said Bridgeport Councilman Matthew McCarthy, a co-chairman of the contracts committee which is expected to review any sale, on Tuesday. "They say they are (willing). Will never happen."

But Hoydick in an interview Tuesday disagreed, emphasizing she is not against commercial passenger service.

"I know it's a good sound bite that Stratford wants to freeze the airport in perpetuity," she said. She likened Sikorsky to the New Haven-owned, privately-managed Tweed, which hosts commercial flights.

"I think there are opportunities for us to do what Tweed has done," Hoydick said.

Stratford's mayor, however, did acknowledge another fear — that Bridgeport selling to the CAA would render null and void previous agreements between the city and her town preventing runway extensions.

"That would be my concern," she said.

Stratford's council also noted in its letter that the town "is offering more funds than the CAA."

But Roach has continually argued that selling an airport is not like a normal property transaction, with the site going to the highest bidder. Under federal guidelines the city cannot make a profit, but only recoup what it can prove it has invested over the years in Sikorsky, which Roach has said is the $10 million maximum CAA has offered.

"The $13 million figure (from Stratford) sounds more enticing than $10 million, but the fact of the matter is $10 million is the amount that the city will be allowed to retain, regardless," Roach said Tuesday.

"There is ancillary property adjacent to the airport Stratford would be interested in buying," Hoydick said, explaining the reasoning behind the $13 million offer. Bridgeport owns significant wetlands around Sikorsky.

State Rep. Joe Gresko, D- Stratford, is a longtime Ganim ally who works part-time for Bridgeport but also represents the neighborhood where Sikorsky is located. Gresko on Tuesday encouraged the Bridgeport council to consider Hoydick's offer.

" Stratford being able to be the master of its own destiny going forward as the owner appeals to me," he said.

Gresko added he does not want to see Sikorsky expanded "outside of its current footprint" and would like that put in writing in any deal Bridgeport makes with the CAA or another entity.

Two other Bridgeport council members who may have influence on that body's decision weighed in Tuesday as well.

Scott Burns is a co-chairman of the council's economic development committee.

"I think the CAA is probably the preferred option, but it doesn't hurt to look at all the options," Burns said.

Jeanette Herron is a contracts committee co-chair. She said she would consider leasing Sikorsky to the CAA, but opposes selling it.

"I don't like seeing the airport being given away or taken away," Herron said. "I think Bridgeport should keep it."

One of the Ganim administration's arguments for the sale — that the airport has continually lost money and is a drain on the municipal budget — was eliminated recently when the city negotiated a new, more profitable lease with longtime tenant Atlantic Aviation.


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