Gary airport appoints overseer for expansion project

2013-07-08T13:37:00Z 2014-01-23T09:36:08Z Gary airport appoints overseer for expansion projectBy Keith Benman, (219) 933-3326

Former Indianapolis Airport CEO John Clark has been appointed to oversee the Gary/Chicago International Airport's $166 million expansion project, following a debacle that will delay the projects completion at least nine months.

By a 5-1 vote Monday, the Airport Authority gave Clark broad authority to oversee other consultants and contractors hired for the project.

After the meeting, Clark said he was asked to work with program manager Aecom, airport Interim Director Steve Landry and the Federal Aviation Administration "to make sure this project gets done."

One week ago, Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson and airport officials announced the expansion project will not be completed until at least September 2014 due to environmental problems and disagreements among railroads. After years of delay, the airport announced three years ago the project would be complete by the end of this year.

Clark's consulting company, JClark Aviation, already has two contracts with the airport, one to develop a business plan and the other to oversee its privatization effort. Monday's vote will result in Clark's duties under the first contract being expanded to include overseeing the expansion project.

The board did not vote on changing Clark's rate of pay under the first contract, which is $245 per hour, nor its $10,000 cap on his monthly charges.

But Airport Authority member Silas Wilkerson said at some point the board will probably need to add to Clark's compensation for overseeing the expansion because "this is something that needs to be done." When asked, Clark also said he anticipated some change in his pay package for undertaking the expanded duties.

The Gary/Chicago International Airport on Monday also took some of the final steps needed before voting as early as July 22 to approve the largest borrowing in airport history.

The Airport Authority held a public hearing and took two votes that moved a plan to borrow around $35 million forward. The money is needed to keep the expansion project going as well as pay for needed airfield repairs.

The borrowing was not popular with the only two members of the public to speak at the hearing.

"It's like you are setting the airport up for default before you even begin the game," Gary resident Derrick Price said.

The Airport Authority is expected to take a final vote July 22 on the ordinance authorizing the bonding, which will allow it to borrow up to $65 million if needed.

The Airport Authority also approved a number of consultant contracts at Tuesday's meeting.

Above & Beyond Consulting, of Stone Mountain, Ga., will be paid up to $16,400 to develop a system of rates and charges for airport users. Crowe Horwath LLP, of Chicago, will be paid up to $70,000 plus expenses to do a risk assessment for the airport's privatization effort.

Neither contract was put out for bid.

The authority also voted to approve adding $24,006 to a contract with Cender & Co., of Merrillville. Cender & Co. will hire a consultant to do a study of the underlying economics of the Airport Development Zone tax increment financing district.

The study is needed to satisfy lenders, because the $35 million borrowing will be paid back by property tax proceeds collected within the zone, which takes in a broad swath of the west end of Gary.

The authority also heard from aviation consultant John Dust, of Highland, who says he is in talks with Pensacola International Airport, in Florida, and a Pensacola hotel magnate that could result in Allegiant airline flying there from Gary.

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