EDITORIAL: Slow down airport privatization effort

2013-08-14T00:00:00Z EDITORIAL: Slow down airport privatization effort nwitimes.com
August 14, 2013 12:00 am  • 

The rush to privatization for Gary/Chicago International Airport has some potential bidders wondering why the rush. It's a good question, especially with so much up in the air.

There were 29 firms at Friday's pre-bid meeting on privatization. That's in addition to the responses to a request last month for preliminary proposals from the airport.

Airport officials hope to reach an agreement with the winning bidder by the end of October.

A public-private partnership could be just what the airport needs to rev up this economic engine for the region.

But look at how fast this project is moving, and how many other moving pieces there are.

There's a new Airport Authority to be appointed, per a new state law. That board is to be seated after Sept. 1, with the chairman to be appointed by Indiana Gov. Mike Pence. Other board members might be replaced as new requirements for special expertise for board applicants must be considered.

The board is also looking for a new airport director, even as it looks for a new investor with deep pockets for the airport. It only makes sense that the new board's input would be sought on the personnel decision as well as the selection of a privatization firm.

Also, there are questions about how soon the $166 million runway expansion will be finished, with the target date still moving. It now appears the project could linger until 2015, long after the FAA deadline.

It will be easier to sell bidders on the airport when more of these details are ironed out.

When bids were sought on privatization, the deadline was June 17, giving interested bidders just days to put together a proposal.

GCIA Group had asked for a 90-day extension for bid submissions. GCIA asked in a July 29 email to airport lawyers why the bid deadline would be set for just 11 days after bidders were scheduled to begin asking questions and receive the first appraisal of the airport property.

It's a fair question. It's also worth asking why this process is going at such a fast pace when the new board and new director have yet to be put in place.

Give the new board some input into this process and see what happens. That's not stopping the process, it's simply slowing it long enough for the new decision-makers to review it.

The new board will need to hit the ground running, but let it get up to speed on this privatization effort and other details before committing to a long-term relationship with a bidder.

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