The San Diego County Regional Airport Authority’s master concession agreement with HMSHost is expiring next year, and the battle over a replacement has turned into a gold rush for local lobbyists. With the competition reportedly wrapping up soon, the bidding is getting serious. Two contract hopefuls have featured prominently in Tom Blair’s Union-Tribune column: New York–based airport management giant OTG is touting local names in its proposed vendor lineup, including Burger Lounge, Barrio Star, and Searsucker. High Flying Foods, a “family-run, woman-owned business” from San Francisco, is claiming Stone Brewing Company, Saffron, Pannikin, and Phil’s BBQ.
But while the feel-good PR wars continue at the U-T, behind the scenes at the airport authority the proposers are bringing in the big guns for a showdown. The prize: literally millions and millions of dollars in revenue from high-priced food, booze, books, and trinkets purchased each year by airport-goers.
According to airport authority lobbying disclosure reports, OTG is using the Clay Company, Inc., run by Nikki Clay, wife of now-retired superlobbyist Ben Clay. High Flying Foods has hired Richard Ledford of Ledford Enterprises, Inc., a onetime chief of staff to ex-mayor Susan Golding and a major political donor whose clients have included Allied Waste, the University of California, and a Long Beach outfit that wanted to privatize the city’s streetlight operation.
A third contender, SSP America, owned by a British-based multinational, is using Kim Hale of Public Policy Strategies, the outfit owned by Jerry Sanders insider Tom Shepard. Hale is married to the mayor’s director of communications, Darren Pudgil. Then there’s A. Christopher Wahl of Southwest Strategies, who’s working for the ubiquitous Australian multinational Westfield Concession Management. Karen Hutchens of Hutchens PR, an SDG&E veteran, has picked up Delaware North Companies, the giant outfit that edged Diane Powers out of a state lease at Old Town’s Bazaar del Mundo. Jack Monger, another Sanders insider, is working for Pacific Gateway Concessions, also a San Francisco outfit. Ex–water authority chairwoman Chris Frahm of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck represents Hudson Group/Hudson News, “a wholly-owned subsidiary of international duty-free travel retailer Dufry AG of Basel Switzerland,” according to its website. And Herman Collins, former aide to the late Cheetahs-strip-club-case-defendant Charles Lewis, is representing Paradies Shops, a big Atlanta, Georgia–based airport retail management firm.