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Kadner: State buys Bult Field for $34 million

Businessman Jim Bult built 5000-foot runway his private airfield. It is about half size runway state plans build for South

Businessman Jim Bult built a 5,000-foot runway on his private airfield. It is about half the size of the runway the state plans to build for the South Suburban Airport, which would be less than a mile south of Bult Field. | Phil Kadner~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: July 2, 2014 2:11AM



Illinois has purchased Bult Field, a general aviation airport in the footprint of the proposed South Suburban Airport, for $34 million.

That’s $32.5 million more than the state could have paid for the 288 acres about 10 years ago.

Jim Bult, a wealthy and idiosyncratic man, constructed the airport in 2007 on the site of the former Sanger Field, 28261 Kedzie Ave., in Will Township.

Having grown up nearby, Bult became an aviation enthusiast and grew tired of the seemingly endless talk about the state’s plans to construct a giant airport near Peotone.

He purchased property nearby that included the old grass runway of Sanger Field, which began as a county airport in 1948 but was no longer being used. The property had been advertised for public sale at $1.5 million.

Bult, 52, made a fortune by launching Mr. Bult’s, one of the largest interstate waste-hauling companies in the nation today, at the age of 18.

Bult installed a 5,000-foot-long concrete runway that could accommodate corporate jets. He constructed airplane hangars, a taxiway, a terminal and a large, stone-and-timber house where he and his family live.

The site near Monee is within the property designated by the state for the South Suburban Airport. The state and Will County could have intervened to stop Bult but never did for reasons that remain unexplained.

In the past, Bult estimated the value of his improvements to the property at $35 million, not far off from the price he finally got from the state.

“This acquisition marks a defining milestone for the South Suburban Airport,” according to a statement by the Illinois Department of Transportation.

“The Bults are true aviation enthusiasts who built one of the finest general aviation airports in the country. This ownership transition will be as seamless as possible for airport users, while fulfilling our long-standing promise to make the South Suburban Airport a reality,” said Susan Shea, IDOT’s director of aeronautics.

Also, Bult Field will “continue to serve the area’s general aviation and corporate aircraft needs as part of the overall operations” of South Suburban Airport,” IDOT says in its news release.

And an IDOT spokesman said a lease-back provision in the deal would allow Bult to remain living on the site.

Over the years, according to several sources, Bult told people that he hoped the state would eventually build a commercial airfield, but indicated that he had grown tired of what he viewed as the incompetence of public officials in bringing the project to fruition.

An IDOT spokesman said the $34 million to acquire Bult’s airport came from $100 million earmarked for the South Suburban Airport in the 2009 Illinois Jobs Now program.

Prior to the purchase of Bult Field, the state spent $42 million acquiring 3,135 of the 5,800 acres needed for the airport, a spokesman said. The state has acquired 1,500 acres in the last year.

“This demonstrates Gov. Quinn’s commitment to building the South Suburban Airport,” an IDOT spokesman said of buying Bult Field. “It is a major, major milestone in the construction of an airport.”

The spokesman said the Bult Field runway would be compatible with the initial flight pattern proposed for the South Suburban Airport.

That airport, initially envisioned as the world’s largest back in 1980 when it was first discussed, has been scaled back to one 10,000-foot runway and one terminal initially.

The IDOT spokesman said the Bult Field runway could be incorporated into the South Suburban Airport if and when it expands.

Bult responded to my request for interviews in the past by hanging up the phone and texting me with the following message: “I do not do interviews. Do not call me for one.”

I called anyway on Tuesday but was told Bult was not available.

Years earlier, during an interview with columnist Guy Tridgell, who went on to become IDOT’s spokesman, Bult said, “If the state bought Bult Field, bulldozed it and built a viable runway and hangar for me, I wouldn’t care. My beginning goal and my end goal was to have a quality airport here.”

Bult built his airfield and eventually got the state to pay for it.

Under the plan developed by Quinn, the South Suburban Airport would be developed as a private-public partnership with the state acting as the governing authority.

The idea of a third major Chicago-area airport was initially suggested by the Federal Aviation Administration in the 1970s when its forecasts indicated that O’Hare International Airport would be unable to meet the demands of the aviation industry by 2020.

A tristate commission was formed as a result to find the best possible location for the airport, which would be twice the size of O’Hare.

A location near Peotone was ultimately selected by the commission, but before the project went further Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley stepped in and said he wanted to build a new airport in Chicago near Lake Calumet.

When Republicans in the Legislature killed that plan, Daley dropped the idea, which some speculated was always a red herring, a ploy to delay construction of a third airport outside Chicago.

When O’Hare became an aviation bottleneck in the 1990s, a U.S. Senate hearing in Chicago determined that O’Hare should be expanded. Billions of dollars have been spent on the project since, consuming all the federal money to build new airports.

U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. first came up with the idea of a private-public partnership to finance the South Suburban Airport.



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