GARY | The choice of who will manage the unrealized potential of the Gary/Chicago International Airport is now down to one firm.
The Airport Authority announced Friday morning it is now in exclusive negotiations with the Washington, D.C., firm of Aviation Facilities Co. Inc., also known as AFCO.
That leaves GCIA Group spearheaded locally by Patrick Lee, owner of Gary's Lee Construction Management, the only other competitor seeking to manage the airport, behind at the gate.
Carrie Hightman, chairman of the joint city/airport committee, said in a prepared statement Friday, "Entering into exclusive negotiations is an important step toward our goal of unlocking the value of the airport and the surrounding area to attract jobs, long-term investment and professional management to the airport."
Steven Forrer, executive vice chairman of AFCO, said, "We are proud to have been selected. ... We look forward to concluding negotiations quickly so that we can get to work."
Robert Poole, director of transportation policy at Reason Foundation, said AFCO was the more credible choice.
"AFCO is a well-known firm in a niche market. It has a lot of aviation development experience with properties at San Diego International, LAX in Los Angeles and (have) developed and have a part-ownership interest in the Branson, Mo., airfield," Poole said.
Lee couldn't be reached Friday afternoon for comment. His GCIA Group was the local contender for the job of management at the airport, development at the airfield and real estate development in areas surrounding the airport.
Its plan focused on completing the $166 million runway extension project, seeking out cargo carriers, passenger airlines and further develop its airline maintenance facilities.
The AFCO proposal highlighted growth plans for the airfield's hangar and support facilities as well as an intensified effort to generate interest from industrial and commercial developers for land near the airport.
The Airport Authority has been under fire for failing to maximize activity at the taxpayer subsidized airfield despite a $3.8 million operating budget. It began last February exploring privatization of the airport's management. The city of Gary will retain ownership of the facility.