Big investment fish eye Gary airport

2013-03-23T15:30:00Z 2013-03-23T16:00:04Z Big investment fish eye Gary airportBy Keith Benman keith.benman@nwi.com, (219) 933-3326 nwitimes.com

The drive to land private investment for the Gary/Chicago International Airport already is drawing interest from some of the biggest names in the investment business.

A committee exploring long-term leases or other arrangements for the airport heard Friday from Guggenheim Partners, a financial firm with more than $170 billion under management that just announced a major upgrade of its real estate and infrastructure investment arm.

Guggenheim Partners Managing Partner Ramiro Albarran told the committee now is "a great time" for the Gary airport to be exploring public-private partnerships, because the cost of money is low and investors can realize greater returns.

"I think you'll see investors like us roll up our sleeves and see what can be done there," Albarran told the committee via phone at its regular meeting at the Gary airport administration building.

Albarran said investors would most likely be looking to land a long-term management or lease deal of around 30 years. It might take three to five years just to get the kind of changes in place the airport would like to see.

The joint city/airport public-private partnership committee was formed in February to make a recommendation on how best to attract private investment to the airport. The seven members have until late April to make a recommendation.

Mayor Karen-Freeman Wilson said Guggenheim Partners was one of several financial firms sending representatives to Gary City Hall in mid-November to discuss possible public-private partnerships for the sanitary district, the U.S. Steel Yard baseball stadium and the airport.

"It was very natural that all expressed some level of interest in the airport," Freeman-Wilson said.

Other financial firms and banks that sent representatives to the November city hall meeting included Barclays PLC, of London; Citigroup Inc., of New York; and global investment banker William Blair, of Chicago, according to the mayor.

A review of Gary airport consultant John Clark's billing shows he has met in person or communicated with Guggenheim Partners six times for a total of 7 hours and 15 minutes since May. The same billings show Mayor Freeman-Wilson met with Guggenheim Partners for 3 hours in October.

Clark said his initial conversations with Guggenheim Partners were among several contacts he made to discuss development at the airport generally. He acknowledged in some later ones they talked specifically about public-private partnerships. 

The Times obtained Clark's billing statements through an Access to Public Records request of the Gary airport authority.

The public-private partnership committee on Friday also agreed to recommend the airport authority hire three firms to help with its work. Those three firms are Hawthorne Strategy Group, of Chicago, for public relations; law firm Mayer Brown, of Chicago, for legal advice; and John Clark's JClark Aviation, of Atlanta, for overall financial advice.

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