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