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The Niagara County Industrial Development Agency Monday announced it has selected a Santa Monica, Calif.-based aviation firm as a partner in its bid to take over the Niagara Falls International Airport.

The firm American Airport Technologies is a joint-venture of American Airports Corp., a company formed to own, lease and operate airports, and Airport Technologies Inc., which specializes in airport development, operations, business and marketing consulting.

John R. Simon, executive director of the agency, refused to disclose any details of the joint proposal or what the firm offered that 10 others interviewed didn't until after the proposal is submitted to a consultant for the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority on Thursday. But, he said the firm was chosen because of its expertise, commitment and wherewithal. He said the firm has experience in privatizing publicly owned airports and in joint public-private airport ventures.

Simon also said the agency Friday formed a new not-for-profit corporation, the Niagara Airport Development Corp., "to lessen the burdens of government to acquire through purchase or lease, develop and operate (the airport) directly or through third parties. . . ." Five members are to be appointed by the Industrial Development Agency and two members each by the three municipalities where the airport is located -- the county and towns of Niagara and Wheatfield -- and by the City of Niagara Falls, the former owner of the airport. The municipalities will have a choice of whether they want to appoint members.

The representatives from the IDA board will be William G. Mayne Jr., chairman; Gerald J. Zell, business agent for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers 237; Barry S. Schwartz, a health care consultant; Charles Jones, a supervisor at Delphi Harrison; and Simon.

At a presentation to the County Legislature Monday evening, Simon said the IDA felt it was "important that local people have local control" to counter what is considered 30 years of inactivity by the NFTA at the facility. In June, the Legislature voted unanimously to express its determination to take over operation of the airport just two weeks before the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, the state agency that owns the airport, sent out a request for proposals to companies around the world that might be interested in operating the airport.

Simon said the agency wants to develop a "Niagara Regional Air Transportation System" encompassing Western New York and Southern Ontario, in which the Niagara Falls facility would complement not compete with the Buffalo-Niagara International Airport. The Niagara Falls airport has the only runway in the region that can handle wide body 747 jets.

American Airports Corp., a limited liability company, was formed "to provide high quality management and operations assistance (including security and safety), marketing, business development and land development services to reliever and general aviation airports in the continental United States. It's "mission is quality service, promotion of aviation and enhancement of the asset value of the owner of the airport or aviation asset," according to information provided by Simon.

American Airports Corp. operates the Supermarine fixed base operation at Santa Monica Airport, the busiest single-runway general aviation airport in the country, Simon said. The company is affiliated with National Golf Properties and American Golf Corp., which manages a number of municipal golf courses.

American Airport Technologies was approved during a 40-minute executive session of the agency board, during which the vote was taken in private. George W. Cregg, agency counsel, said the minutes of the meeting would be available as required by law in seven days, which will be after the deadline for proposals to the NFTA has passed.

Simon said the agency didn't want to divulge the level of investment it is proposing or its marketing and organizational plans prior to the close of bids on Thursday.

"From a competitive sense, it would not be good business to announce the specifics before the deadline," Simon said. "I'm led to believe there's going to be a couple of responses so what we divulge at this point in time could lead to enhancing somebody else's proposal," Simon said.

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