GARY | The development company of Chicago real estate baron Elzie Higginbottom was among 29 firms showing interest Friday at a pre-bid meeting for a privatization effort underway at Gary/Chicago International Airport.
The event also brought out heavy hitters in the world of investment and infrastructure, including William Blair & Co., of Chicago; TIAA-CREF, of New York; BLOC Global Group, of Birmingham, Ala., a builder and investor; and Hastings Funds, based in Melbourne, Australia.
Those were in addition to companies that signaled their interest last month in responding to a request for preliminary proposals from the airport.
Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson told investors and others seated at five rows of tables in the airport administration building in the morning that her administration proclaimed a new day when it came into office in January 2012.
"And certainly your being here and this entire P3 project is the best evidence that it is in fact a new day, where we are on the horizon of a public-private partnership here at the Gary/Chicago International Airport," Freeman-Wilson said.
Higginbottom, the president and CEO of East Lake Management & Development Corp., is preparing a hangar east of the airport terminal that will be the base for his company's aircraft and refueling operation. He also will build another hangar there under a lease agreement concluded with the airport earlier this year.
Burling Builders, where Higginbottom is president, was also at Friday's pre-bid meeting, according to an airport news release.
Higginbottom's arrival at the airport has drawn widespread notice. He was at one time a top fundraiser for former Chicago Mayor Richard Daley. He was also of the largest contributors to Mayor Freeman-Wilson's campaign for Gary mayor with a $10,000 donation in September 2011.
The new aviation company he is starting at the Gary airport will be called B. Coleman Aviation.
B. Coleman Aviation General Manager Benjamin Toles referred all questions on East Lake Management & Development's interest in the Gary airport to East Lake Director of Development Eileen Rhodes, who was not available for comment Friday.
Earlier this week, those heading to Friday's pre-bid meeting were hopeful about what can be done at the Gary airport.
"If we win the right to run and develop the Gary airport, our goal is to accelerate the economic renewal of Gary," said Steve Forrer, who is heading up a joint effort by AFCO/AvPORTS and the Guggenheim Group to do both.
A request for proposals issued by the airport July 22 outlines two main sets of duties for the winning bidder or bidders. One set of duties would consist of serving as the master developer for airport and nonairport property for a term of 20 years to 40 years. The master developer must show it raise a minimum of $100 million in investment.
The second set of duties would be performed by a new airport manager. That contract would be for five years to 10 years.
The joint city/airport committee spearheading the effort has emphasized the airport is not for sale. In that way, they say it is not a privatization of airport assets but a public-private partnership they are undertaking.
The airport hopes to conclude a deal with a winning bidder by the end of October.