New Gary airport board in holding pattern as it awaits more info

2013-09-10T14:30:00Z 2013-09-11T10:37:03Z New Gary airport board in holding pattern as it awaits more infoBy Keith Benman keith.benman@nwi.com, (219) 933-3326 nwitimes.com
September 10, 2013 2:30 pm  • 

The new Gary/Chicago International Airport Authority board met for the first time Tuesday but held off action on any changes that may be coming until it gets up to speed on airport projects.

"I'm excited and happy to serve on the board, but we have a lot of work to do to catch up on all the issues here," said authority Chairman Tom Collins, who was just appointed to the post 11 days ago by Gov. Mike Pence.

The six new authority members will attend a six-hour orientation on Friday, getting briefings on the airport's $166 million expansion project and negotiations for a public-private partnership to operate and develop the airport, as well as the airport's day-to-day operations.

Michael Doyne, appointed by Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, said he understands a substantial amount of money has been spent on consultants at the airport and that is one area the new board is sure to review.

A Times analysis has shown the airport has awarded $1.2 million in mainly no-bid consultant contracts just since April.

The authority board did receive a brief update from Carrie Hightman, chairwoman of a joint city/airport committee, on the selection of two bid groups for final negotiations on contracts to operate the airport and manage its development.

Those two groups are the GCIA Group LLC and Aviation Facilities Co. Inc. The two groups each consist of airport operating companies, real estate firms and investment houses.

The first face-to-face negotiations with each group will take place next week, Hightman said.

The authority undertook only one significant action at the meeting, approving spending up to $20,000 to extend a contract with Cender & Co., of Merrillville, to aid the airport with accounts payable and finance management. The airport has been without an accounts payable clerk since earlier this year.

Other matters such as the expansion project, a $35 million bonding measure, and others were put off until the authority's next regular meeting in two weeks.

Much of Friday's meeting was taken up by public comments from the Northwest Indiana Federation of Organizations/Jobs Coalition, which wants the airport authority to sign on to a jobs pact ensuring Northwest Indiana residents have the opportunity to work at the expanding airport.

"The people of the community must benefit from airport development if Gary has any hope of being rebuilt," the Rev. Cheryl Rivera, federation executive director, told the airport authority.

Pastor Charles Strietelmeier, of Augustana Lutheran Church, Hobart, said the jobs pact is designed to ensure opportunities for low-income residents throughout Northwest Indiana.

"We do not want to see rich consultants and corporations benefit from development at the airport without the community also benefiting," Strietelmeier said.

Last week, Bo Kemp, a member of the joint city/airport committee and a top aide to Mayor Freeman-Wilson, agreed to meet with the Northwest Indiana Federation on the jobs pact. He said the mayor supports ensuring job opportunities for local residents at the airport.

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