Don’t give up on south sub­ur­ban air­port, con­sul­tant says

Post Tribune (Sunday) - - News -

The Chicago po­lit­i­cal ma­chine has used its clout to sti­fle progress on a pro­posed re­gional air­port in the south sub­urbs.

Nei­ther Repub­li­can Gov. Bruce Rauner nor Demo­crat J.B. Pritzker will ad­vo­cate for the so-called “third air­port,” re­gard­less of the out­come of the Nov. 6 elec­tion.

Those were a cou­ple key take­aways from a Chicago South­land Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment Corp. fo­rum Fri­day morn­ing in the his­toric Ford Han­gar at the Lans­ing Mu­nic­i­pal Air­port.

Del­marie Cobb de­liv­ered re­marks on “Fight­ing for the South Sub­ur­ban Air­port in the Gov­er­nor and May­oral Elec­tions” to an au­di­ence of more than 100 busi­ness and civic lead­ers. Cobb owns the po­lit­i­cal con­sult­ing firm Pub­lic­ity Works and pre­vi­ously worked for pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates Jesse Jack­son and Hil­lary Clin­ton.

“The air­port is a project whose time has come, not just for the south sub­urbs but for Chicago and the rest of the state,” Cobb said.

Cobb said four Illi­nois gover­nors — Jim Edgar, Ge­orge Ryan, Rod Blago­je­vich and Pat Quinn — ad­vo­cated for the air­port. The state has spent nearly $100 mil­lion ac­quir­ing land near Peotone and Beecher for the project. Boost­ers be­lieve the project is key to cre­at­ing jobs and in­vest­ment to re­vive the South­land econ­omy.

“Ev­ery op­por­tu­nity we cre­ate in our state should be around mov­ing peo­ple and pack­ages,” Cobb said.

Rauner hasn’t ad­vo­cated for the South Sub­ur­ban Air­port or the pro­posed Il­liana Ex­press­way, Cobb said. Pritzker is an­other po­lit­i­cal “neo­phyte” who seems more in­clined to sup­port ex­pan­sion of Chicago’s O’Hare In­ter­na­tional Air­port, she said.

“All (Pritzker) needs to do is lis­ten to the peo­ple try­ing to get (the South Sub­ur­ban Air­port) built in­stead of the peo­ple try­ing to pre­vent it,” Cobb said.

Sev­eral elected of­fi­cials cham­pi­oned the project be­cause they re­al­ized its eco­nomic im­pact, she said. Key sup­port­ers in­cluded former U.S. Sen. Roland Bur­ris, former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jack­son Jr. and the late state Sen. Aldo DeAn­ge­lis, she said.

“Oth­ers, like (U.S. Rep.) Bobby Rush (D-Chicago) and (former U.S. Sen. and Pres­i­dent) Barack Obama said they would sup­port it as can­di­dates but fell silent once they were in of­fice,” Cobb said.

South Sub­ur­ban Air­port pro­po­nents may feel “fa­tigued” with­out the gov­er­nor’s sup­port, but they shouldn’t de­spair, Cobb said.

“You have power,” she told the au­di­ence. “The ques­tion is, do you have po­lit­i­cal will to ex­er­cise your power?”

Cobb sug­gested sup­port­ers re­vive mo­men­tum for the project by ask­ing former gover­nors Edgar and Quinn to hold a joint news con­fer­ence to tout the ben­e­fits of the pro­posed air­port.

Cobb’s opin­ion that nei­ther Rauner nor Pritzker would ad­vo­cate for the air­port de­serves fur­ther ex­plo­ration. Their pub­lic po­si­tions on the topic have fluc­tu­ated in some cases, and might best be de­scribed as more nu­anced than out­right op­po­si­tion.

Rock­ford Reg­is­ter Star colum­nist Chuck Sweeny noted that mod­er­a­tor Carol Marin asked the gu­ber­na­to­rial can­di­dates about the air­port dur­ing a Sept. 20 de­bate.

“As gov­er­nor would you be for or against that project, re­ally just a yes or no,” Marin asked.

Rauner was a “no,” but Pritzker seemed to say

“yes” while at the same time ac­knowl­edg­ing the in­ter­ests of Chicago po­lit­i­cal forces.

“Well, we need to make sure we’re not tak­ing jobs away from the other two ma­jor air­ports (O’Hare and Mid­way), but in light of that ... I re­ally be­lieve that we should look se­ri­ously at build­ing that third air­port,” Pritzker said.

Less than a week later, at the Sept. 26 ground­break­ing for im­prove­ments to the U.S. Route 30 in­ter­change with In­ter­state 80 in New Lenox, Rauner of­fered a dif­fer­ent an­swer when asked about the air­port.

The Daily South­town re­ported Rauner as say­ing that with the right fi­nanc­ing struc­ture and eco­nomic growth to sup­port it, “We won’t be de­bat­ing a third air­port. We will be say­ing we have to have a third air­port.”

The his­toric Ford Han­gar at Lans­ing Mu­nic­i­pal Air­port was a per­fect set­ting for Fri­day’s fo­rum. The vil­lage-owned fa­cil­ity oc­cu­pies 650 acres south­east of Glen­wood Lans­ing Road and Burn­ham Av­enue.

Au­tomaker Henry Ford ini­tially bought 1,400 acres in 1923 and built run­ways and a state-of-the-art han­gar within a few years, John DeLau­ren­tiis, the air­port’s former man­ager, said.

“(Ford) wanted to con­nect his two plants in south­east Chicago with his fac­to­ries in Detroit,” DeLau­ren­tiis said. “He spared no ex­pense in construction of this build­ing.”

Ford never re­al­ized his vi­sion of mass-pro­duc­ing a three-en­gine air­craft called the Tri­mo­tor, DeLau­ren­tiis said. Nonethe­less, the Lans­ing Air­port sym­bol­izes how the south sub­ur­ban re­gion is strate­gi­cally po­si­tioned for man­u­fac­tur­ing, transportation and other com­merce.

“This is a very his­tor­i­cally sig­nif­i­cant build­ing,” DeLau­ren­tiis said.

The vil­lage of Lans­ing ac­quired the prop­erty in 1976. The air­port has two run­ways, 15 build­ings and more than 2.2 mil­lion square feet of paved sur­face.

Sev­eral com­pa­nies op­er­ate out of the air­port.

“Lans­ing (Mu­nic­i­pal) Air­port pro­vides a busi­ness op­por­tu­nity for our com­pany,” said Joseph Gian­nini, pro­cure­ment spe­cial­ist for fam­ily-owned Mid­west Aero­space. The com­pany spe­cial­izes in pro­vid­ing spare parts for planes, he­li­copters and other air­craft to the U.S. mil­i­tary and oth­ers.

The Ford Han­gar was listed on the Na­tional Reg­is­ter of His­toric Places in 1985, said Dan Pod­gorski, Lans­ing vil­lage man­ager. The vil­lage is pur­su­ing plans to con­vert the han­gar into an air­plane mu­seum and cul­tural cen­ter, he said.

Fri­day’s event pro­vided an op­por­tu­nity for Lans­ing of­fi­cials to show­case their com­mu­nity to dozens of guests.

“We have a num­ber of things to cel­e­brate,” said Patty Ei­dam, mayor of the town of 28,000 res­i­dents. The vil­lage re­cently com­pleted a $5 mil­lion project to con­vert a former lum­ber­yard into a town cen­ter and multi-pur­pose en­ter­tain­ment com­plex called Fox Pointe.

“Our vi­sion is to see this vil­lage-owned venue used for a va­ri­ety of events, not just con­certs,” Ei­dam said.

Lans­ing will cel­e­brate the 125th an­niver­sary of its in­cor­po­ra­tion as a vil­lage in 2019, she said.

Ted Slowik

Cobb

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