Airglades execs working on airport deal details

LABELLE — The Hendry County Board of Commissioners learned at its meeting June 18 that Airglades International Airport LLC’s target date is Sept. 30 to have all items on its to-do list out of the way so the parties can set a closing date for the AIA privatization deal.

County Attorney Mark Lapp presented the revised 140-page document with his recommendations to the board. He worked closely with AIA attorney Dan Mackler to hone what is now known as the “Gunster Draft,” which was hammered out May 30, 2019.

The county board first approved the purchase and sale agreement on Feb. 27, 2018. “Since that time, as a result of FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) comments and further consideration of the deal by AIA and county staff/attorneys, the agreement has been revised in several respects,” his report stated. He said he wanted to update the board on the main changes to the agreement since February 2018 and request that they approve of the latest version of the agreement.

Commissioner Michael Swindle said: “Attorney Lapp… I read through it the best that I could, and I think I understand the differences because you did a great job at the analysis … I know that you have scoured through this with other attorneys. Is there anything that we should pay close attention to?”

Mr. Lapp answered and gave a synopsis of his report: “No, the most significant change was what happens if they (AIA LLC) go insolvent and our intervention to operate the airport with them not being able to. That was most of the changes — to make our rights clearer and stronger to be able to cover our expenses, because when you’re coming in and operating this place, that’s a lot of expenses.”

He explained that among the other professionals he talked to in honing the “Gunster Draft” was a bankruptcy attorney “who had strategies to ensure that we were better covered financially if we had to do that. There were little tweaks here and there … some in their favor, some in our favor.”

“But you’re happy with it? You’ve got good vibes, you like it? It looked good to me, but I know there were some very specific legal things that you had early concern on,” replied Mr. Swindle.

“These changes are generally positive,” Mr. Lapp said. “The request is for the chairman to sign the pre-agreement letter, which basically says that if the FAA and FDOT (Florida Department of Transportation) approve of everything, that we’re going to do the deal, but if there’s changes, then we’ll work together on changing it.”

“When do you see this becoming final?” Mr. Swindle asked.

Mr. Lapp deferred to County Administrator Jennifer Davis. “There’s a 9/30 deadline,” she said. “So once this gets put up, then they (FAA and FDOT) will issue some type of opinion, and then there’s going to be a 60-day comment period, so we’re trying to get all of that done prior to September 30th.

“We don’t have to be closed before then,” Ms. Davis explained, “but the next steps with FAA need to be complete.”

“So we’re thinking end of September, Octoberish we could be revisiting this and shaking hands and sitting down at the closing table?” Commissioner Swindle pressed.

“Then we’ll be going to the next steps,” Ms. Davis replied.

Commissioner Darrell Harris wanted to know, “Could they ask for another extension? Because we’ve extended this bunches of times.”

“If they didn’t have it ready I think they would,” she said. “But I think that’s what they’re moving toward, is to get everything complete by 9/30.”

The commissioners then chatted over how long this privatization deal has been in process. “The very first meeting was in December 2009 — the introductory meeting,” Mr. Lapp recalled.

Commissioner Karson Turner jumped in. “Was that when Fred Ford came?” he asked of the attorney, regarding Airglades International CEO Frederick C. Ford.

Mr. Lapp said it was. Commissioner Harris mused, “Ten years ago. Seems like it’s been at least 12.” Mr. Turner tested the memories of those present. “Do you remember who was the commissioner that voted against Fred Ford that first time? Do you remember?”

Mr. Swindle said smilingly, “Do you? Was it you?”

“That’s right, baby!” Commissioner Turner exclaimed. “It was scary. This guy comes out to the middle of nowhere from Winter Haven, hands us a one-page document and says, ‘I want to lease 500 acres at Airglades Airport.’ Everybody was saying, ‘Yeah, we’ve gotta do it!’ And I’m like, ‘Who is this stranger danger?!’”

Hearty laughs rippled all around the dais. Mr. Swindle then made a motion with Mr. Harris seconding, to approve the letter. It carried unanimously and with enthusiasm.

“That was scary. He just turned off U.S. 27 and was like, ‘Hey!’” Mr. Turner laughed.

Chris Felker can be reached at cfelker@newszap.com.

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