Gary airport could strike deal with private investors by fall

2013-04-05T15:00:00Z 2013-12-28T17:00:31Z Gary airport could strike deal with private investors by fallKeith Benman, (219) 933-3326

GARY | A joint city/airport committee will recommend the airport authority seek investors willing to invest at least $100 million to develop the airfield and surrounding property.

"If they can't do $100 million, they shouldn't be flying with us," committee member Carrie Hightman said.

In a meeting at the Gary/Chicago International Airport administration building Friday, the committee finalized a report that the airport authority could review as early as Monday. It recommends entertaining public-private partnership deals but rules out any sale of the airport.

"This airport is really the most critical piece in the total economic development of Northwest Indiana," said Harley Snyder, who is both a committee member and a member of the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority board of directors.

Committee members made it clear Friday the city of Gary does not expect any immediate financial windfall or bailout from any deal, with mayoral appointee Bo Kemp saying the mayor wants investors to keep their money at the airport. But the report does call for revenue sharing in the form of rental payments or a percentage of gross revenue.

The 12-page report also rules out what it calls "privatization" of the airport and recommends an initial five-to-10-year management arrangement. However committee Chairman David Bochnowski said that doesn't mean proposals for long-term leases are precluded.

In the past six weeks, the committee has heard about successful public-private partnership deals that include privately built and run passenger terminals, an airline terminal management group and airfield leases.

The committee had until the end of this month to deliver its report but beat the deadline. It also has laid out an aggressive schedule for sealing a deal. The committee wants to oversee the search process for investors and deliver a final recommendation on a successful bidder to the airport authority by August.

"It's our intent to show the FAA we are serious," Bochnowski said.

The earliest a deal could be struck would be early autumn, consultant John Clark told the committee.

The report also recommends the airport authority hire Clark's JClark Aviation consulting firm with payment of $200,000, and up to $25,000 in expenses, contingent on consummation of a public-private partnership deal. JClark Aviation would provide overall project management and advisory services.

JClark Aviation was hired by the airport authority last year to develop a business plan for the airport and is now working under an extension of that contract.

The committee will continue to search for legal services and a financial adviser. A previous recommendation to hire Chicago law firm Mayer Brown had to be rescinded because the firm feels the Gary job would conflict with its work on the Midway privatization deal now in the works.

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