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"IDOT: Six firms interested in South Suburban Airport"


 
Tuesday, May 2, 2017

IDOT: Six firms interested in South Suburban Airport 
By Susan DeMar Lafferty
The Chicago (IL) Daily Southtown


Six firms recently responded to the Illinois Department of Transportation's 
attempt to gauge developers' interest in building, operating and maintaining 
the planned South Suburban Airport, the agency said.

IDOT officials held individual meetings with those firms last month and are now 
analyzing the information gathered to determine the next steps, spokeswoman 
Gianna Urgo said. The identities of the firms, as well as their level of 
interest, were not disclosed.

IDOT put out requests for information on March 14 to see whether there are 
private sector firms interested in building and operating the airport, as IDOT 
secretary Randy Blankenhorn said it was time to "put this to rest."

IDOT began buying land in that region in 2001 and has acquired more than 4,454 
acres of land for $95 million, with only a handful of remaining parcels needed 
to construct the inaugural airport facilities.

Also included in that footprint is Bult Field, at 28261 Kedzie Avenue in Will 
Township, which the state purchased in June 2014 for $34 million. IDOT 
currently leases its land and facilities, including airport hangar space and 
agricultural, residential, and commercial properties and expects to collect 
more than $1.2 million in gross revenues from its rental income. But IDOT wants 
to eliminate its financial support of the facility and grounds, as soon as 
practical, the RFI document stated.

Blankenhorn said last month that the state is not interested in building an 
airport with public money and wants to create a public-private partnership. 
Through the RFI process, officials want to determine whether an airport is 
financially feasible, and if airlines are interested.

"We have been treating the people out there very badly for years. They deserve 
an answer," Blankenhorn said then.

But how long it will take to get that "answer" is still unknown.

IDOT sought RFIs in 2014, seeking an effective strategy to market commercial 
air passenger and air cargo activity at the South Suburban Airport, and 
received four responses, none from an airline and only one from a business that 
seemed to have limited experience in airport construction, the Daily Southtown 
reported at that time.

Both RFI documents noted that IDOT was producing an Airport Master Plan for 
Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) review and approval. Key elements of that 
plan, including existing conditions, aviation forecasts, facility requirements, 
evaluation of alternatives and environmental considerations have been accepted 
by the FAA.

The South Suburban Airport will be a new "supplemental air carrier airport" in 
Eastern Will County, and serve a "vital role in the region by providing a 
convenient and accessible venue for commercial passenger service, cargo 
operations, as well as corporate and general aviation activities," the document 
said.

IDOT is interested in potentially developing the airport through a 
pre-development agreement because it believes that partnering with an 
experienced private sector airport developer could provide the commercial and 
technical expertise and financial investment to accelerate the project's 
implementation and commercial success, the RFI document said.

Under such an agreement, IDOT would be responsible for the environmental and 
Airport Master Plan work, while the developer would do a feasibility analysis, 
financing and business plan.

Pending the results of that, Phase 2 of the agreement would be to finance, 
design, build and maintain the airport.

In the questionnaire that was part of the RFI, potential developers were asked 
what incentives they would require, what regulatory and environmental work they 
would need from IDOT, and what they considered to be the project's primary 
risks.

They also were asked to provide other suggestions that the state should 
consider in the scope of this project.

Will County board member Judy Ogalla, R-Monee, said Blankenhorn briefly 
addressed the airport issue at last week's global logistics summit, hosted by 
the Will County Center for Economic Development, which she attended.

He did not elaborate, but only said if the airport was not feasible, the state 
would not do it, she said. Ogalla, an airport opponent, said she wants the land 
reverted back to farmland.

John Greuling, CEO of the Center for Economic Development, said creating a 
public-private partnership for the airport is "a bold step."

"A project like this could really help Illinois' overall economy," he said. The 
RFI process will determine what is needed to make this project successful and 
if a public-private partnership is economically viable, he said.

Even though the airport is totally within Will County, it is out of the 
county's hands, Greuling said.

"This is very frustrating for the county. It could have a huge economic upside 
for us, and we're on the sidelines," he said.
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