Gary/Chicago International Airport set a new flight path for itself in January when airport officials entered into a 40-year, public-private partnership with Aviation Facilities Company Inc. to manage its real estate and operate the airport.
The groundbreaking deal was one of the first of its kind in the United States, stopping short of a sale of the airport but going far beyond the simple management agreements signed by many other airports.
"This is a partnership to maximize a Gary asset, for the benefit of Gary and all of Northwest Indiana," said Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson just before the historic signing of contracts at the Gary airport's administration building on Jan. 27.
Executives from AFCO and its AvPorts subsidiary, which will manage airport day-to-day operations, pledged quick progress for the airport, which is often billed as Chicago's "third airport" after O'Hare International and Midway.
"This P3 is historic, as the mayor said," said AvPorts CEO and President Ozzie Moore. "So if we can make it work here, and we have every intention of making it work here, we think there are lots of opportunities like this throughout the U.S. and beyond for making something like this successful."
"We will do everything we have to to make this succeed, because this is bigger than Gary," Moore said.
Hopes are high for the arrangement because the winning bid team put together by AFCO included finance and real estate heavyweights such as Michael Mullen, former CEO of CenterPoint Properties, and Guggenheim Partners, a global hedge fund with more than $170 billion under management worldwide.
The agreement gives AFCO the exclusive right to develop real estate at the airport and on city-controlled property within the vicinity. The company already is well known for its development of warehouse and other facilities at airports.
Under the agreements signed in January, AFCO is required to attract a minimum of $25 million in new building and other investments for the airport by 2019.
AFCO also pledged to help with the Gary airport authority's $166 million runway expansion project. The completion date for that project was moved back nine months to September of this year when environmental cleanup became more involved than at first thought.
AFCO Executive Vice President Steve Forrer in particular pointed out the help Mullen will provide in negotiating with railroads. He has extensive experience dealing with them in developing intermodal rail yards.
Some of the largest projects within the overall $166 million expansion involve relocating railroad tracks. One set of tracks sits on a high berm that directly blocks the expansion of the main runway.
"Michael Mullen is extremely conversant with what's going on with the railroads and expects to be integrally involved in getting the berm removed and all that behind us so the runway can be completed," Forrer said.
When complete, the runway expansion will enable the airport to handle the largest passenger and cargo airliners.
In 2013, the airport also welcomed a new fixed-base operator, B. Coleman Aviation, which was founded by Chicago real estate magnate Elzie Higginbottom.
In other airport action, the Boeing Corp. extended its hangar lease at the airport through August 2016. Boeing Corp. houses its own corporate jet fleet at the airport, which is convenient to Boeing's global headquarters in downtown Chicago.
Boeing Corp. is a prime customer of the Gary Jet Center, the airport's long-time, fixed base operator. In 2012, the Gary Jet Center opened a new $5 million, 40,000-square-foot hangar at the airport. That followed the opening of a $4.1 million, 39,000-square-foot hangar four years before.