A new committee wants to attain the old goal of getting Gary/Chicago International Airport recognized as Chicago's "third airport" by taking off in a new direction.
The joint city/airport public-private partnership committee that wants to find a private operator for the airport met for the first time Friday.
"We all know and recognize the Gary airport has been an underperforming asset for the region and we would like to change that," said committee chairman David Bochnowksi at the meeting at the airport administration building.
Bochnowski explained the committee has been charged with finding a way to land a private company to oversee the day-to-day operations of the airport and make the kind of investments the airport badly needs to build business.
"We are not engaged in the sale of the airport," Bochnowski said. "The airport will continue to be publicly held by the city."
The committee has been charged with reporting its recommendations to the city and airport within 60 days.
Airport consultant John Clark, of JClark Aviation, told the board of pressing needs at the airport beyond the current $166 million runway expansion project. Those include resurfacing its main runway, an update of its master plan and building out its cross-wind runway.
He pointed out the airport currently takes in about $300,000 less a year than it needs to sustain operations.
And Clark was not calculating the public subsidies currently needed to operate the airport.
The airport will levy $1.5 million in property taxes this year for its general fund and $1.4 million for its building fund. The Airport Development Zone also takes in more than $4 million per year from a tax increment financing district on the city's west side.
"One challenge quite frankly is without self-sufficiency it's hard to see how that funding will occur," Clark said.
The board also heard by speaker phone from David Narefsky, a partner at the Meyer Brown law firm in Chicago, who has advised municipalities nationwide on public-private partnerships.
Narefsky is currently advising the city of Chicago on a developing privatization deal for Midway International Airport. His firm was also involved in the long-term lease deals for the Chicago Skyway and Indiana Toll Road.
Narefsky will be providing the committee with examples of airport public-private partnerships that can lead to airport growth and economic development around it.
The committee on Friday also took care of basic housekeeping items such as a meeting schedule, resolving to meet every two weeks.