Gary airport privatization flying forward

2013-10-28T16:45:00Z 2013-10-29T08:17:06Z Gary airport privatization flying forwardBy Keith Benman keith.benman@nwi.com, (219) 933-3326 nwitimes.com

The effort to privatize Gary/Chicago International Airport is back on a fast track with last week's announcement the airport is now exclusively negotiating a deal with Aviation Facilities Company Inc., known as AFCO, of Dulles, Va.

Gary Airport interim Director B.R. Lane on Monday said the joint city/airport committee negotiating with AFCO plans to have a proposed agreement before the Airport Authority at its Nov. 25 meeting.

The AFCO proposal appears to have won out over a competing one from the GCIA Group because it aligned with more of the committee's goals based on a scoring system it established, Lane said.

"Now negotiations will begin in earnest," she said.

Lane confirmed the joint city/airport committee held face-to-face negotiations with the AFCO team on Oct. 18 and the GCIA Group on Oct. 22. The GCIA Group is spearheaded by the Lee Companies, of Gary.

Committee member and Airport Authority member James Cooper said both groups submitted strong proposals.

"When I look at it, both groups really put their heart and soul into it and both groups had well thought out presentations," Cooper said. "It's just at the end of the day one rises to the top."

Lee Companies President Patrick Lee said his group learned new information about airport funding at the Oct. 22 meeting. The joint city/airport committee demanded term sheets be submitted the next day. Lee said on Oct. 23 he asked for a two-day extension to the close of business that Friday, Oct. 25, to submit a final proposal, but his request was rejected.

"We don't know why they made their choice," Lee said Monday. "But it wasn't because of our credibility, because we are a group of airport development heavyweights and commercial/industrial development heavyweights."

AFCO has long been thought to be the front-runner for the job of operating the airfield and managing development at the Gary airport.

The airport consultant managing the privatization was talking to an investment firm that is part of the AFCO bid team in May 2012, according to billing records obtained earlier this year by The Times.

Those same billing records showed a three-hour meeting took place between the investment firm, the consultant and Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson on Oct 9, 2012. That was four months before the joint city/airport committee was formed to look into forming a public-private partnership for the airport.

On Monday, Lane said the Airport Authority board will not necessarily vote on any final agreement with AFCO at its Nov. 25 meeting. That vote could come at a subsequent meeting.

"To be clear, we will not take a deal just for the sake of a deal," she said.

The Federal Aviation Administration will have to review any proposed agreement. The Gary Airport Authority will continue to own the airport.

Under a timeline laid out by the joint city/airport committee in July, a final agreement for operating and developing the airport was to have been approved and signed by this week.

But in mid-September, mayoral aide and committee member Bo Kemp said the projected signing date had been pushed back to November or December due to the appointment of an entirely new airport authority earlier that month.

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