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New management for Juan Santamaría gets final OK

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff (Original here)

The nation’s financial watchdog issued its final approval Thursday for a Houston company to take over management of Juan Santamaría airport.

This means that the new manager will invest up to $180 million to improve the airport.

The new manager will be Houston Airport System Development Corp., which has wide experience in running such operations. The firm will buy out 95 percent of the stock of Alterra Partners, the current manager which has experienced financial problems.

The approval by the Contraloría de la República was required, and there were lengthy negotiations on various aspects of the contract. Among other things, Houston Airport System wanted a 25-year contract instead of a 20-year one to improve its profit. The Contraloría approved that.

Alterra has been in repeated financial hot water and has been unable to perform. The company had been unable to work out a deal with its creditors for more money. In addition, the firm had been under fire by minority parties in the legislative assembly.

Alterra did open some 4,400 square meters of salons as part of a $15 million update in December 2007. However other work at the airport proceeded at a snail’s pace.

Houston has been trying to assume the management role for more than a year.

Under the agreement approved Thursday, the company will invest $180 million in remodeling and construction, including $30 million to build the second half of the airport terminal and demolish and reconstruct C, D, and E wings. The firm also will build an electrical substation and put air conditioning in the boarding lounges that already have been constructed.

The remaining $150 million will be used to build more boarding lounges at the terminal and to expand the runway. According to the agreement, work is supposed to start July 1. When Houston took over the Quito, Ecuador, airport it invested $200 million.

Karla González, minister of Obras Pública y Transportes, which has final authority for the airport, said the Contraloría decision vindicated her agency which has drawn a lot of fire from opponents. Some did not like the idea of the government giving up management of the airport. The Arias administration said that a concessionaire was necessary to bring in more investments to make improvements.

In addition to Quito, Houston administers four airports in Texas that handle 58 million passengers a year.

Costa Rica, Houston Airport System Development Corp, Juan Santamaría airport