Potential investors have different visions for the Gary/Chicago International Airport that include making it a cargo hub or a home for a green jobs training center.
Eight different companies and investment groups expressed interest in projects after the Gary/Chicago International Airport Authority asked for broad proposals from investors who would be willing to pump at least $100 million into the airport and the surrounding area.
Responses came back from a multibillion-dollar global financial services firm, a local consortium that includes Gary Jet Center CEO Wil Davis and an airport management company that operates facilities at airports around the country, including off-site parking at Chicago's Midway International Airport and Indianapolis International Airport.
Their proposals included operating the airport, providing financing for new infrastructure, creating a new Center for Green Industry and Technology with the help of Ivy Tech, and moving the airport toward a more commercial or industrial business model.
Two of the proposals suggested focusing more on logistics than passenger service, at least in the short term.
Canada-based MXD Development Strategists, which has done planning for airports in Denver and Memphis, said in its response that passenger traffic would not be a priority after Allegiant Airlines terminated its flights to Orlando. Passenger service hasn't taken off at Gary/Chicago International, but the airport could instead become more oriented toward logistics like airports in Memphis or Fort Worth, the commercial development consulting firm suggested.
Warehouses that distribute high-tech, high-value or time-sensitive goods for instance could cluster around the airport.
MXD Development Strategists pitched the idea of an "airport city" that would involve developing the surrounding area with aviation-related firms or businesses that need to be near airports, such as logistics companies that ship food or other refrigerated items. Such businesses also could take advantage of nearby highways, railroad lines or freighters on Lake Michigan.
Chicago-based Environmental Engineering firm Greeley and Hansen proposed green initiatives, public art and community outreach for the airport district. The firm wants to partner with Ivy Tech Corporate College to launch a research and training center that would provide job training to local residents on emerging green technologies, sustainable airport management and environmentally friendly infrastructure.
Surrounding habitats, Lake Michigan and nearby waterways could make the airport district a living laboratory, and such a facility could make Northwest Indiana a destination for green manufacturing, Greeley and Hansen suggested.
The Airport Authority also received proposals from firms that were interested in running the airport's operations. Washington, D.C.-based AvPorts, which has worked with airports in Dallas and many other cities, expressed interest in a range of potential partnerships that could include operating the airport.
Guggenheim Partners, which manages $180 billion of assets, would be interested in teaming up with AvPorts. The firm's proposal is to line up the financing and have AvPorts manage the airport.
The GCIA Group LLC, a local consortium that includes Davis and Chicago-based real estate developers, also put forward a proposal to manage the airport and lure more logistics companies to the surrounding area.
Bo Kemp, a member of the ad hoc committee that's working on a public-private partnership at the airport, said the authority wanted to have formal interviews with five of the eight interested investors before developing a formal request for proposals. Airport officials had been looking to test the waters to see what projects that market would be interested in.
Committee members said the response they got was encouraging and boded well for the possibility of a major private investment at the airport.
"This is very heartening and energizing, to have something real and concrete," said committee member Carrie Hightman.