Branson Area Airport Subsidized at $8.24 per head - 417 reports

The excerpts below are from an article in 417 magazine By Tiesha Miller:

In 2006, then-mayor Lou Shaffer signed a pay-for-performance agreement. For every inbound passenger, the City of Branson is to pay $8.24—an amount that was calculated using the projected tax revenue generated by each visitor. Annually, the amount cannot exceed $2 million, and the city is more or less locked into the agreement for 30 years. Taney County declined a similar deal.

On the surface, the city’s agreement makes sense. In general, the consensus on the airport is pretty unified. Most everyone seems to see it as a great thing for Branson’s economy. People coming into Branson bring revenue, including that of the tax variety. Everyone wins. But it’s not the airport that concerns Mayor Raeanne Presley. She’s in full support. It’s the deal the city made that concerns her.

“It’s not specific enough to who we’ll pay for,” Presley says. “We don’t know if [the inbound passengers] are new to the area. If I get on an airplane, and I fly back, then the city has to pay $8.24 for me. But I’m not growing the economy.” She also points out that while this sort of deal isn’t rare, she thinks the per-passenger dollar amount is too high.

The deal also begs the question, what happens if Branson isn’t the main attraction? Today, it seems unlikely that anything else in the area will draw more visitors than Branson, but there’s no guarantee the situation will stay that way. What happens if everyone heads south?

“I don’t want to dream what things will be like in 30 years,” Presley says. “You don’t know what will be built. A big destination resort might go up next to Big Cedar.”

The argument can go in many directions. On one hand, $8.24 per passagner may be a small trade for the low-risk option of having a privately funded airport from which the city’s economy gains. Peet also says the agreement was hugely influential in securing the bond investors because they could guarantee a source of revenue. The city won’t take a loss if the airport fails because it only pays if people actually fly into the airport. Should Branson officials have been more specific on which inbound passengers qualified, and was $8.24 the ideal magic number? The question still remains whether the city’s move was business-savvy.