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Nearly completed projects will ignite Gary airport development, forum participants say

The terminal control tower Gary/Chicago International Airport. | Andy Lavalley~Sun-Times Media

The terminal and control tower at the Gary/Chicago International Airport. | Andy Lavalley~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: May 13, 2013 6:07AM



GARY — Efforts to lengthen the runway and reroute railroad tracks at Gary/Chicago International Airport are expected to be complete at the end of this year.

At that point, the potential for growth at the airport and in Northwest Indiana is limitless, according to Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson and other officials who spoke at a Thursday forum on the airport’s future.
The forum kicked off “World Creativity and Innovation Week” and was co-sponsored by Ivy Tech’s Gerald I. Lamkin Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center and NIPSCO.

Freeman-Wilson said the future is already taking shape, with a task force exploring the possibility that a public-private partnership will someday govern the airport.

“We understand that development needs to happen with all deliberate speed,” Freeman-Wilson said. “But we know that, despite good intentions, sometimes government doesn’t operate with all deliberate speed.”

In five years, Freeman-Wilson predicts, the airport will have carved out a niche to transport small cargo, increase corporate jet and passenger traffic, and develop unused properties along Industrial Highway.

Interim Airport Director Steve Landry outlined why the airport chose to lengthen the runway — to fulfill a Federal Aviation Administration mandate — and the lengthy process — starting in 1999 — that led to the relocation of railroad tracks. Landry said the project will allow Gary to provide service for planes that carry more than 150 passengers and travel distances beyond 1,000 miles due to larger fuel tanks.

“When they can use only that one type of plane, it makes no sense for the business model for airlines,” Landry said.

Regional Development Authority Executive Director Bill Hanna said the airport expansion is the largest project on the RDA’s plate and it’s related to the group efforts along the lakeshore and expanding South Shore train service.

“It really is a chance for us to be a multimodal hub,” Hanna said. “House Bill 585, which offers a proposed study of the Gary port, shows that the airport is really situated well for the future.”

Hanna said consultants hired by the airport have been identifying land ripe for development and planning a boulevard entrance for the airport. An economic impact analysis released by the RDA shows increased activity at the airport could result in 2,430 new jobs by 2025.

“We’re not waiting to react to what will happen as a result of construction,” Hanna said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen, but we’re obviously committed to a process that has been yielding results.”

Freeman-Wilson urged business leaders to talk about the changes at the airport.

“As great as the challenges are in Gary, its potential is even greater,” Freeman-Wilson said. “We need to get on board because this train is absolutely moving.”



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