Hey, Chicago! Want a free airport?

2009-05-27T00:00:00Z Hey, Chicago! Want a free airport?Mark Kiesling
mark.kiesling@nwi.com, (219) 933-4170

Talk about a thankless job -- being named to monitor the city of Gary in hope of pulling it out of the monumental financial morass that it has taken years, even decades to get bogged down in.

But such is the lot of the panel named by the Indiana Distressed Unit Appeals Board, which will take a look at more than a dozen problem areas that have led to the fiscal crisis that now threatens to paralyze the debt-wracked city.

Among those is the potential to turn management of the Gary/Chicago International Airport over to private management. The current public management has repeatedly insisted that it can turn a profit with passenger travel, yet it seems that every new venture goes belly up within a year or less.

Maybe they should take a look at a map of Chicago and get a new idea entirely.

If you look at O'Hare International Airport, the Chicago airport sits in the suburbs, surrounded by Des Plaines, Rosemont, Schiller Park and the like. Its only link to Chicago is the umbilical cord of Interstate 190, built specifically to link the city to the east with the airport to the west.

So there. What do you say we give the Gary/Chicago International Airport to Chicago? Just hand them the deed to the whole thing and say, "Here you go."

It sits only a few miles east of the Chicago city limits, and it would be easy to designate a portion of the highway leading to the airport as the property of Chicago, giving it the same advantage it now has with O'Hare.

Chicago Mayor Richard Daley has no use for U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson's proposal for a third Chicago-area airport in the Peotone area because it would (at least ostensibly) be built with private capital and run as essentially a business. That means there wouldn't be hundreds of patronage jobs that go with operating a major airport.

Daley wants any third airport to be in the city of Chicago. So we give him the Gary airport free and let him develop it into a hub for cargo and passenger traffic.

So what do we in Northwest Indiana get out of this? Several things.

First, we get rid of the airport, which is an albatross around the neck of the city. Chicago has the wherewithal to modernize and expand the airport.

Second, we get the economic development on the land Gary keeps around the airport. O'Hare was once known as Orchard Field (that is why your luggage tags read ORD) until Mayor Richard J. Daley expanded the airport and named it after war hero Butch O'Hare.

That development brought major international corporations to the area, huge hotels and convention centers for business travelers. The sleepy hamlets of Schaumburg and Rosemont became boomtowns with flourishing economies.

Third, the Gary airport already exists, and contains room enough in its borders for expansion. No need to rip up valuable farmland in Peotone, and it's a heck of a lot closer to Chicago.

Pie in the sky, perhaps. But even the pie needs someplace to land.

The opinions are solely those of the writer. He can be reached at markk@nwitimes.com or (219) 933-4170.

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