There has been considerable criticism of privatizing Gary/Chicago International Airport operations now, when the airport is still a jewel in the rough, rather than later, when the city could get some revenue from leasing this asset.
But this isn't like the Indiana Toll Road, which generated a $3.8 billion windfall when Indiana leased that asset to a private company. The private dollars and expertise are needed now to help the airport reach its potential.
"This is a partnership to maximize a Gary asset, for the benefit of Gary and all of Northwest Indiana," Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson told the Gary/Chicago International Airport Authority Jan. 27, just before the vote was taken to approve the 40-year privatization agreement.
"We will do everything we have to to make this succeed, because this is bigger than Gary," said Ozzie Moore, CEO and president of AvPorts, a subsidiary of Aviation Facilities Co. Inc.
AvPorts provides management services at nine airports around the nation. AFCO serves 25 airports.
AFCO has a lot at stake in this deal. It will share 20 percent of net profits on leases of city property at or near the airport with the city, among other sweeteners.
AFCO has a 40-year contract that could be reduced if the company doesn't attract the pledged investment. AvPorts has a 10-year contract for managing the airport with up to six five-year renewals.
Among the challenges AFCO faces is finally finishing the excruciatingly lengthy runway extension project. That includes getting recalcitrant railroads to agree to use new tracks built at the airport's expense. Until those trains are shifted away from the new runway, the project can't be finished.
AFCO also must attract enough business to the airport to make it highly profitable — in other words, to rev up this potential economic engine.
This is a long-term investment in the airport, not reaping a windfall like the Indiana Toll Road lease. Through the private investments in the airport, tax revenue finally will increase.
Public dollars are limited, but AFCO has deeper pockets as well as the knowledge base needed for this airport's success.
The company has just one year to come up with a 40-year plan for attracting $100 million in investment.
Within three years, the firm is supposed to attract $25 million in investment. It's one of the benchmarks the company must meet along the way.
AFCO has benchmarks it must hit. Hold the company to them. Doing so will help this airport finally get off the ground.