The Gary/Chicago International Airport Authority by a 6-1 vote on Monday approved moving forward to seek private investors willing to put $100 million or more into airport development.
The vote authorized a number of steps needed to form a public-private partnership with outside investors, including commissioning a joint city/airport committee to put out requests for proposals within months.
The joint committee wants to round up and propose a private partner by August, according to the timeline laid out in its final report. The private partner will likely be an infrastructure fund, private airport management company or real estate developer.
"The rubber is about to meet the road," said authority member David Bochnowski, who also heads the joint city/airport committee.
The best-known example of a public-private partnership locally is the state's 75-year lease of the Indiana Toll Road to private investors in 2006. Other examples are the deal concluded by the state for the East End Crossing of the Ohio River bridges project and the parking meters deal in Chicago.
Airport Authority members also said the airport is seeking local money to keep its control tower open, after hearing an urgent plea from Gary Jet Center owner Wil Davis. The tower is slated to close June 15 because of federal budget cuts.
"It's a huge safety factor," Davis said. "And it's a huge marketing factor. I know the statement has been made it will not impair safety. It will impair safety."
Davis pointed out the control tower was a big factor in attracting Boeing Corp.'s corporate jet fleet to the airport. Boeing is currently negotiating an extension of its hangar lease with the airport authority.
Airport Authority member Cornell Collins told Davis the airport is working on finding funds to keep it open. Preliminary estimates are it would take $350,000 to $400,000 a year.
The airport authority also approved negotiating a contract with ADK Executive Search, of Atlantic Beach, Fla. For a fee of $30,000 the firm will search for a permanent executive director for the airport. Steve Landry has been serving as interim executive director of the airport for the past 2 1/2 years.
Authority Vice Chairman Rev. Marion Johnson said Landry can apply for the permanent position and praised the job he does as interim director.
The authority also approved a proposal by Landry to combine the airport project manager's job with that of the vacant post of deputy airport director. Along with other personnel changes proposed by Landry, the airport could save $94,978 annually on salaries and benefits with the move.
For airport marketing, the airport authority extended the contract of Jame Ward's JACOWA 3 Entertainment until the end of this year at the current rate of $4,333 per month.
The airport authority also approved a contract with Hawthorne Strategy Group for handling all communications for forming a public-private partnership and assisting with other communications. Hawthorne will be paid $7,500 per month for the tasks. The contract runs from January 2013 to the end of the year.
The firm will be paid only if the airport is successful in finding a private partner in line with the criteria laid out in the joint city/airport committee's report. And payment will be made by the successful private party bidder, not the airport, according to Bochnowski.