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New Gary airport group finding its way

GARY- The ad hoc committee of business people and Gary/Chicago International Airport authority members still wrestle with what their roles are, but a top mayoral aide clearly indicated a public-private partnership, or P3 was the expectation.

The group also agreed to investigate a “dream team” of legal, financial and communication experts to help them with their work.

“The likelihood is we’re going to make some recommendation around a public-private partnership,” said Bo Kemp, of New Jersey, a top aide to Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson. “At the end of the day, the value for us is to narrow it down to what model we’ll use.”

Two weeks ago, at the committee’s first meeting, chairman David Bochnowski, president of People’s Bank, noted the group would try to come up with a recommendation for the best management model for the airport, but most of the discussion has moved toward a P3.

A P3 is not a privatization of the airport, consultant John Clark has said repeatedly. Instead, it likely will mean ceding management of the airport to a private company that can also generate investments in the Gary airport. The city and the authority may get a percentage of any increases of the values in the airport and the surrounding land, Clark said then.

At the end of Friday’s meeting, committee members still tried to determine their role.

“I feel like we’re jumping over the first step, because we’re assuming we’re going to do something,” said Carrie Hightman, chief legal officer and executive vice-president of NiSource.

Real estate investment firm head Harley Snyder also asked how the authority’s business plan, compiled by consultant Landrum and Brown, will affect the committee’s work. The airport authority and the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority paid $450,000 for the study and plan.

Two key issues the committee face are fast action and credibility, Kemp said.

“We are in a race against the entire world, because the people who can make investments in this kind of thing are global,” he said. “Speed is one of the things that drive value, but we also have to be seen as credible, too.”

The committee agreed to seek help from financial, legal, investment and communication advisors in return for possible compensation later. The experts would advise the committee and help sell the model to the public and interested investors.

They would be paid if the airport authority extends a contract to a management firm.

Kemp called the consultants a “dream team” of advisors.



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