CHICAGO | Chicago was given federal approval Friday to privatize Midway International Airport, and the city promptly began asking potential buyers to get in touch.
The city hopes to lease Midway for up to 40 years in a deal that would generate enough cash to pay off the airport's roughly $1.4 billion debt, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has said. Profits would be split between the private operator and the city.
A two-sentence statement released Friday by the Federal Aviation Administration said Chicago "can take the next steps to select a private airport operator" after the agency accepted a preliminary application to privatize Midway.
The city wasted no time seeking interested bidders for Chicago's second busiest airport, posting a 59-page document online asking companies to express their interest and touting the airport's economic strengths.
The 85-year-old airport, which handled almost 20 million passengers last year on its five runways, "represents an excellent investment opportunity for the private sector," the city document gushes.
However, many Chicago residents turned sour on privatization efforts after former Mayor Richard Daley got the City Council to approve a 75-year lease of city parking meters in 2008. The city got a $1.1 billion payment — much of which has already been spent — and meter fees went up.
In the wake of that deal, the Emanuel administration has mandated extensive oversight before any agreement on Midway is sealed.
"The city's process and approach will be thorough and open, in stark contrast to the lease deals of the past," Lois Scott, the city's chief financial officer, said in a statement Friday in response to the FAA approval.
Responses expressing interest in leasing Midway are due by Feb. 22 and final bids would be due later this year — though with the review periods and final FAA approval required, it's not clear when a private operator could actually take over.
Among other requirements, the document posted Friday by the city says, is that a "Traveler's Bill of Rights" must be part of a deal.