Now that the search for a partner in the privatization of Gary/Chicago International Airport has been narrowed to a single finalist, negotiations on terms of the ideal contract are vital.
The joint city/airport committee that winnowed the list of bidders decided last week to go with Aviation Facilities Co. Inc., known as AFCO, from Dulles, Va.
AFCO won out over the other finalist, GCIA Group, spearheaded by the Lee Companies, of Gary.
The Federal Aviation Administration will have to review any proposed agreement. The airport will continue to be owned by the Gary/Chicago International Airport Authority. The operation of the airport is what's being privatized in this public-private partnership.
As the committee and AFCO negotiate in earnest on the proposed contract, it's important to think long and hard about the future of the airport. Is its future primarily in cargo? Regularly scheduled passenger service? General aviation?
Deciding that will determine what direction AFCO, and the airport, should go in future airport capital improvements. As business grows at the airport, additional improvements will be warranted.
Building appropriate expectations for this public-private partnership is necessary, too.
This will not be like the long-term lease of the Indiana Toll Road, in which the state gained billions of dollars up front in exchange for granting ITR Concessions the right to collect tolls on the highway for 75 years.
Gary will not see a big cash infusion right away. Rather, it will gain a partner able to help the airport realize its potential.
As this contract is being negotiated, focus not just on a final outcome at the end of the contract but also on periodic benchmarks along the way so the contract can be cancelled early without penalty if the partner isn't showing progress.
That's a key point, because progress at the airport has been impeded for so long that public expectations regarding the airport have been lowered. Build that trust as well as the airport and the surrounding area.
This airport promises to be an economic engine for the region. Find the right switches to get that engine fired up.