The Gary/Chicago International Airport Authority voted 6-0 on Tuesday to spend $30,000 to hire a marketing consultant to help sell Allegiant Airline's Gary-to-Orlando flights.
"This needs to be done as rapidly as we can to improve marketing efforts between the airport and the airline," Interim Airport Director Steve Landry told the authority board.
The marketing money will be added to the $75,000 the airport committed to a joint marketing agreement with Allegiant when the airline first announced its plans in February.
"If we want a successful airport we have to sustain what we have," said authority Vice President Rev. Marion Johnson Jr.
Three weeks ago, Landry and newly hired airport consultant and former Indianapolis International Airport CEO John Clark traveled to Allegiant headquarters in Las Vegas to discuss getting more flights for Gary. However, on Tuesday, Landry said the new marketing consultant will focus on the current service.
Landry said Allegiant has been successful in filling seats on the route and that they plan to continue flying out of Gary. Allegiant's online booking site is taking reservations for Gary-to-Orlando flights up through November, just like with its other routes.
Allegiant has been flying out of Gary since February. It is the first regularly scheduled airline to use the airport since Skybus airline folded up after flying out of Gary for just three weeks in 2008.
In another marketing move, the airport authority on a 6-0 vote approved spending $12,342 on a new billboard on the westbound Borman Expressway west of Interstate 65 promoting the airport and Allegiant. It will be paid for out of the current joint airport/Allegiant marketing fund, Landry said.
The airport authority board also voted 6-0 to give Landry and Airport Attorney Patrick Lyp power to negotiate a new lease with the Gary Jet Center for a hangar previously leased by Don Burrell, the founder of Burrell Imaging. The Gary Jet Center bought the hangar from Burrell earlier this year.
If those negotiations do not succeed, the airport authority can move ahead with evicting Popovich Aviation, which is now using the hangar, and take possession, Lyp said. It is the airport's position that under the 20-year lease Burrell signed in 1994, he in fact abandoned the hangar by recently selling it, Lyp said.
That brought a sharp retort from Gary Jet Center owner Wil Davis, when he was contacted about the situation. Davis said he has now taken his case to City Hall after the authority recently sent him a letter demanding he sign a two-year lease or it would seize the property.
"I have taken this to the mayor," he said. "I am working through her and her counsel. I don't know why I am being discriminated against for wanting a long-term lease."
Davis said he is willing to have the new lease updated to today's prices starting now, but he wants it to run through 2045, when his other hangar leases at the airport also expire.
The Gary airport executes hangar leases similar to other airports, where it charges a "ground rent" for the land a hangar is built on. The hangar construction is paid for by the tenant.