From an ephiphany came an airport. Until 2004, Connecticut-based businessman and former bond trader Steve Peet knew little about Branson, Mo., the Ozark Mountain recreational hub. After all, he says, “I live in the Northeast, and there was no easy way to get there, so why market it to people like me?”
That changed when Peet, then a passive investor in airport developer Aviation Facilities Company (AFCO), visited Branson to assess a stalled project. There, he discovered Branson’s diverse entertainment infrastructure, and that more than half its 8 million annual visitors travel more than 300 miles to get there. “I had an epiphany: This place needs an airport,” says Peet.
“Steve’s involvement from the fall of 2005 to early 2007 was the difference that made this project a reality,” says Renita Mollman, project manager for Burns & McDonnell, the airport’s architectural and engineering consultant. “Without his complete dedication...it would have never come to fruition.”
“This is the most exciting thing I’ve ever been involved in,” Peet says. “I’ve done some fun stuff in my career, but this tops them all.” Peet sought to overcome the hurdles of conventional financing processes by establishing Branson Airport LLC. With no model to go by in creating the nation’s first privately developed commercial airport, “We knew we’d be doing a lot of lobbying, a lot of hand-holding and a lot of learning,” Peet says.
Airport investor overcame hurdles through innovative financing to bring nation’s first privately built greenfield airport to completion in Missouri.
Peet recruited Northeast investors to generate an equity base and convinced Taney County (Mo.) commissioners to create a Transportation Development District, which opened the door to $114 million in 30-year tax-exempt revenue bonds at a municipal interest rate.
Peet also negotiated approximately $10 million worth of local sales-tax relief, and sold the city of Branson on a “pay for performance” agreement, whereby the airport receives a payment for each passenger who uses the facility.
That Peet was able to successfully assemble disparate elements of a pioneering project comes as no surprise to Don Taylor, vice president of airport contractor McAninch Corp., Des Moines. “His personal culture of civility, honesty and overall integrity earned the trust of local leaders and financial backers,” Taylor says.