More cargo, more jets, easier access promised for airport

2013-04-11T14:00:00Z 2013-04-12T11:12:04Z More cargo, more jets, easier access promised for airportBy Keith Benman keith.benman@nwi.com, (219) 933-3326 nwitimes.com

Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson and other Gary/Chicago International Airport backers now have their eyes fixed well beyond the completion of its runway expansion later this year.

At a Leader Luncheon 2013 event at the airport attended by 85 people Thursday, Freeman-Wilson expanded on previous comments about seeking private investors to help with developing the airport, saying they hold out the best hope for finally realizing the airport's potential.

"It became clear to me early on that this is not something government could, or even should, do alone," she said.

Freeman-Wilson spoke in the Airport Administration Building, where the Gary airport authority just three days before had approved going ahead with seeking private investors willing to invest $100 million or more in exchange for development rights at the airport.

The move to form public-private partnerships for airport development comes as airport leaders are growing confident the $166 million runway expansion project can be completed by year's end.

During her opening comments and later in a panel discussion she said corporate jet flights and cargo operations are two areas where a private developer or business could lend the most help.

The mayor spoke just one day after the Indiana House made major changes to a bill which, as originally written, would have stripped Gary of its airport authority majority. Later that bill was changed to restore the majority to Gary but gave the governor veto power over all appointments.

The changes made Wednesday do away with the governor's veto power, but gives him the power to appoint the authority chairman.

Freeman-Wilson said that isn't much different than the situation now, because the governor currently gets to appoint one board member. The authority chairman has no special voting powers.

The mayor was joined on the panel by Airport Interim Director Steve Landry and Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority CEO Bill Hanna.

Other hints dropped as to what is next at the airport included more Allegiant flights, perhaps to Las Vegas, and converting the pothole-filled Airport Road into an entrance boulevard.

Mayor Freeman-Wilson also said both she and the RDA are discussing some kind of community jobs pact to ensure Gary and region residents are able to get some of the new jobs that will be created at the airport.

The RDA passed out an economic impact analysis at Thursday's event that projects up to 2,430 new jobs could be created in the region by 2025 due to increased activity at the airport and on adjacent properties.

The Leader Luncheon 2013 was presented by The Gerald I. Lamkin Innovation & Entrepreneurship Center of Ivy Tech Northwest in partnership with the city of Gary, Gary/Chicago International Airport, the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority and the Center for Creative Solutions Inc.

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