Questions continue to swirl around public money being used to fund terminal expansion at IAH

By Mario Diaz - Reporter

HOUSTON - Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner tried his best Wednesday morning to dodge KPRC 2 Investigates.

At one point, he said, "I'm not going to get into a one-on-one, Mario" to investigative reporter Mario Diaz.

Turner was attempting to avoid questions surrounding the controversial International Terminal Redevelopment Project at George Bush Intercontinental Airport.

The project has already burned through $111 million public dollars with no real construction to show.

The 5-year-old project has yet to truly take off and is still in the design phase, as KPRC 2 Investigates reported Aug. 1.

City Controller Chris Brown has questions. He informed KPRC 2 Investigates of his plans for an audit of the project. However, Brown will not conduct the audit until next year. Nonetheless, Brown, in a recent interview, sounded the alarms.

"At the rate we are going, we are spending a lot of money with not a lot to show for it," he said.

City Councilmember Dwight Boykins wants answers now.

On Monday, Boykins called for a hearing of the council's Transportation, Technology and Infrastructure Committee to provide an update and full accounting of all airport expenditures. It's important to note that public dollars fund the project.

In June 2014, the city’s airport system stated the following in a press release: “In an effort to keep pace with this historic growth, the Houston Airport System has secured approval to raise the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) at both IAH and William P. Hobby Airport (HOU) from $3 to $4.50. PFC’s are included in the ticket price for each passenger as they depart a particular airport and those funds can only be used in the structural improvement of an airport facility. The Houston Airport System will use the added revenue to help cover the cost of the new terminal building, which is projected to be somewhere between $700 million and $900 million.”

The project, which was announced as a new facility to “replace the existing Mickey Leland International Terminal Building (Terminal D),” is now up to $1.2 billion.

Channel 2’s recent investigation into the project focused on the Houston Aviation Alliance, a group of companies operating under one umbrella, according to city records. Records produced by the city show two public relations firms, HillDay and Vesta Rea and Associates, as a part of the Alliance that has received $25 million thus far.

During his weekly news conference Wednesday, Turner said, “Facts are important,” adding that he was being informed by his staff “that according to the airport, the PR firms have not been paid anything so far, so your story is inaccurate."

Immediately following Turner's news conference, Diaz circled back to the airport's interim communications director. The official confirmed HillDay's portion of the $25 million was $390,000. We initially asked over a week ago for proof of the work being done by any of the public relations firms associated with the project.

The airport has yet to provide any examples. HillDay, coincidentally, is a donor to Turner’s reelection campaign.

Late Wednesday afternoon, the airport’s spokesman emailed KPRC 2 Investigates, again stating a company named HillDay Industries is actually doing business as HillDay Public Relations. The airport said, “HillDay Industries, a dba of Hillday PR, is the entity working for HAA.”

The airport system went on to add, “HillDay Industries does contract compliance, outreach to potential bidders and other administrative support services for this project.” The airport also wrote that HillDay “has not done PR work and has not been paid for any.”

We did ask the airport again for any documentation to back up its claims. It was unable to produce any responsive information.

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