Chicago real estate baron eyeing Gary airport

2012-11-26T15:30:00Z 2012-11-27T15:34:20Z Chicago real estate baron eyeing Gary airportBy Keith Benman keith.benman@nwi.com, (219) 933-3326 nwitimes.com

Chicago real estate mogul Elzie Higginbottom is in early-stage negotiations with Gary/Chicago International Airport to operate an aircraft service center there.

Higginbottom was traveling on Monday, but a company vice president at his Eastlake Management & Development Corp. confirmed he has been involved directly in talks that could lead to establishing what is known as a "fixed base operation" at the airport.

"I think that it's fair to say he feels there is a lot of potential at the Gary airport because of its proximity to Chicago," said Eileen Rhodes, an Eastlake vice president. "And the airport authority and the city have been doing a lot to improve the airport lately."

Higginbottom, CEO and president at Eastlake, is optimistic about the project but negotiations to establish a fixed-base operation at Gary are still at a very early stage, Rhodes said.

Eastlake is a prominent Chicago area development firm, with projects ranging from high-rise luxury condominiums to rent-subsidized housing. Higginbottom is also a former chairman of the Cook County Housing Authority and was a top fundraiser for former Chicago Mayor Richard Daley.

A Gary airport consultant on Monday briefed the airport authority's board about progress in negotiations with Eastlake.

Al Stanley, COO of JClark Aviation, told the authority board Eastlake is looking at locating near the Boeing Corp. hangar near the west end of the main runway.

"We will have more info for you at this moves along," Stanley told the board.

He later told reporters Eastlake would like to provide services typically offered by fixed-base operators such as aircraft maintenance, refueling, charters and air-taxi service.

Currently, the airport has just one fixed-base operator, the Gary Jet Center. That operation has grown markedly in recent years with a rapid increase in corporate business jets coming and going at the airport.

Earlier this year, the Gary Jet Center opened its new $5 million GJC Hangar 3 at the airport, which followed the opening of its $4.1 million GJC Hangar 2 in 2008. The Gary Jet Center has a more than 20-year history at the airport.

Also at Monday's meeting, Gary airport Interim Director Steve Landry told the board Allegiant airline is surpassing the critical 10,000 passenger threshold for this year. Passing that marker makes the airport eligible for $1 million in federal airport improvement funds.

The authority also approved two policy statements, one of which lays out development goals designed to cement its position as "Chicago's third airport" after O'Hare and Midway.

The airport authority at Monday's meeting also headed off a potential delay in its $166 million runway expansion project by agreeing to an amendment in a pact with Majestic Star Casino, which will allow a new sewer line to be constructed under railroad tracks.

The authority also approved $48,000 in expenditures for its marketing campaign promoting Allegiant airline and the airport. The money will pay for radio, television and billboard advertisements across Northwest Indiana and Chicago's south surburbs.

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