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Midway Airport plan offers idea to Gary airport committee

Committee members

A seven-member ad hoc committee has been formed to investigate developing a public-private partnership to manage Gary/Chicago International Airport.

David Bochnowski, chairman and CEO of Peoples Bank;

Cornell Collins, attorney and member of the Gary/Chicago International Airport Authority;

Carrie Hightman, chief legal officer and executive vice-president NiSource;

Pastor Marion Johnson, airport authority board member;

Mamon Powers, Jr., Powers and Sons Construction;

Harley Snyder, HSC Inc.;

Bo Kemp, J. Gari Associates and adviser to Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson.

Updated: March 24, 2013 6:10AM



GARY — An ad hoc committee of area business people Friday spent the first of three scheduled meetings discussing models for public-private partnerships to put Gary/Chicago International Airport on a higher flight plan.

A consultant for the local Airport Authority said the airport is not up for sale, nor is it being privatized, but public money to develop the airport is harder to come by.

“You have an asset here that has unrealized value, and the thought has been to infuse capital from the private investment sector that would normally come from public funding,” Atlanta-based airport industry consultant John Clark said.

The Airport Authority has been considering such a committee for about a year, but word of Midway Airport’s attempts to privatize that Chicago facility ignited the Gary discussion, a Gary official said.

B.R. Lane, chief of staff for Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, said Midway’s discussions pushed Gary officials to explore how a different model of running the airport would benefit Gary and Northwest Indiana.

The ad hoc committee was not a result of language in a recent bill by state Sen. Ed Charbonneau that would effectively have given control of the Gary airport to newly elected Indiana Gov. Mike Pence. That element of SB 585 has since been removed.

“We heard Midway was trying to do a public-private partnership and even put out a request for qualifications, so we were trying to get our arms around different entities that would be affected by public-private partnership here in Gary.

“We had already decided this was something that should be explored before SB 585.”

The committee, whose members were selected by Freeman-Wilson and Nate Williams, president of the Airport Authority, was charged with picking a public-private partnership model that will boost capital and infrastructure development at the airport.

For example, a private management company that will also invest in improving the airport’s infrastructure and develop investment opportunities there would boost the airport’s capabilities, said John Clark, an Atlanta-based consultant for the Airport Authority.

In that possible model, the city and the airport could get a percentage of any increases in property values of the airport.

The plan is to make Gary airport the third in the Chicago region to handle commercial services flights, Clark said. Once the main runway is expanded and the nearby railroad lines relocated, it will be easier to draw more airlines to Gary, he added.

“It’s almost like a hidden gem, in my opinion,” said Carrie Hightman, chief legal officer for NiSource, the parent company of Northern Indiana Public Service Co., of the Gary airport.

The seven members of the ad hoc committee will not be paid for their work, but consultants who help the committee and the airport authority may later receive compensation if a private management company is found and a contract closed with one, Lane said.

Board chair David Bochnowski, chairman and CEO of Peoples Bank, said the ad hoc committee will meet until they come up with a recommendation for the airport authority.



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