Highstar, Macquarie square off for Puerto Rico airport

A mandate to operate Luis Munoz International Airport is now a race between Highstar Capital and Macquarie Group. Meanwhile, the PPPA has extended its deadline to bid on its maiden social infrastructure project.

The final phase of a process to find a private partner to run the Luis Munoz International Airport in Puerto Rico will pit Highstar Capital against Macquarie Group, the Puerto Rico Public-Private Partnerships Authority (PPPA) revealed.

The PPPA did not announce when a preferred bidder would be named. Ana Maria Gregorio, a spokeswoman for the authority, was not available for comment.

Highstar is heading a consortium named Aerostar Airport Holdings, partnering the $5.5 billion infrastructure fund manager with publicly traded Grupo Aeroportuario del Sureste, or ASUR, a major airport operator in Mexico.

Sydney, Australia-headquartered Macquarie, via Macquarie Infrastructure and Real Assets (MIRA), has teamed with Ferrovial Aeropuertos, a specialist in airport construction, in the Grupo Aeropuertos Avance consortium.

Financial services provider Macquarie has been a prominent participant in helping Puerto Rico become a public-private partnership (PPP) lodestar. Its Macquarie Capital investment banking unit helped the PPPA shape its PPP programme after Puerto Rico passed a 2009 law that created the authority.

From there, Macquarie went on to work with the authority on a project basis. Macquarie Capital advised PPPA on its vaunted $1.4 billion 40-year toll road concession agreement on Puerto Rico Highway 22 (PR-22). Managing director D.J. Gribbin headed that project for Macquarie.

In 2010, the PPPA selected a sell-side adviser for its Luis Munoz International Airport privatisation project, hiring Credit Suisse Group. Switzerland-based Credit Suisse advised Chicago in its aborted privatisation of the Midway International Airport.

The authority opened bidding on the project in earnest in 2011. By year end, the PPPA had developed a shortlist of six consortia, then issued a request for proposal (RFP). Finally, in March 2012, the authority began evaluating the RFPs, selecting Aerostar Airport Holdings and Grupo Aeropuertos Avance.

The PPPA praised Aerostar Airport Holdings and Grupo Aeropuertos Avance for their “clear understanding” of the privatisation, with executive director David Alvarez crediting each consortium for being able to show that airport privatisation can be “extremely positive”.

“The Airport is critical infrastructure for the island of Puerto Rico,” Alvarez said, calling the project “transformative”.

Meanwhile, the PPPA is extending the deadline on a bid for its debut social infrastructure project, a 600-bed juvenile social treatment centre named Nuevo Comienzo, or “New Beginning”.

The authority said a request for qualification (RFQ) first due on Friday, May 4 is now expected by Monday, May 7. The project is a design, build, finance and maintain (DBFM) mandate.