The Gary/Chicago International Airport Authority voted 5-1 on Monday to create a committee with the city of Gary to come up with recommendations for a public-private partnership "to move the airport forward."
Airport and city officials made it clear they are contemplating something less than a wholesale privatization of the airport -- such as is being planned for Midway International in Chicago -- but something more than just bringing in new management.
"We want someone with a robust balance sheet that can come in and make not just suggestions but can put their money where their mouth is," said Gary Mayor Karen-Freeman Wilson after telling the board she supports the committee.
"We are not selling the airport," she added.
Looking into public-private partnerships to boost airport development was a key recommendation of a strategic business plan prepared three years ago for the airport in conjunction with the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority.
Airport Authority President Nathaniel Williams charged the new committee with bringing back recommendations within 60 days.
The move comes on the heels of Senate Bill 585, which would have stripped majority control of the airport authority from Gary's mayor. Indiana Senate Democrats say that bill will be amended to maintain the status quo with airport authority appointments.
Mayor Freeman-Wilson said the committee will consist of two airport authority members, two from city government, two business people and an at-large member. She said under any scenario for airport management and investment, the airport authority would continue to exist.
The airport authority also heard from consultant Al Stanley on Monday that a deal could be completed within weeks with Eastlake Management & Development Corp. to become the airport's second fixed-base operator. Fixed-base operators fuel aircraft and provide other services such as charter service and plane repair.
JClark Aviation, where Stanley is a partner, has been putting the deal together for the Gary airport.
Currently, the Gary Jet Center is the airport's sole fixed-base operator. The only other fixed-base operator to attempt to start up there was Aviation Professionals Institute, or API, in 2006. That attempt ended badly with the airport evicting API and the company suing.
Gary Jet Center owner Wil Davis told the airport authority his only concern with a new fixed-base operator at the airport is that it be held to the same terms as his company.
"The Gary Jet Center has been competitive for 25 years here and will continue to be," Davis said. "What I'm concerned with is a level playing field."