TINLEY PARK – State transportation officials sent a message to potential investors Tuesday that they can’t move forward with the decades-in-the-making South Suburban Airport project without private input – or money.
“With some road projects, you can say we’re going to build four miles and leave it at that. But with this, you can’t build a runway and say we’ll build the tower 10 years later. You basically got to have all that money up front and then allow for expansion later,” said Roger Driskell, deputy director for the Illinois Department of Transportation.
“So you need that investment. It’s difficult for a public agency to finance … That’s why more and more places are looking to [public-private partnerships],” he said.
At the Tinley Park Convention Center on Tuesday, Driskell, along with IDOT’s director of aeronautics and new acting secretary, presented the state agency’s airport plans to nearly 200 businesses, investors and developers interested in the project. The forum was titled, “Partnering for Progress: Innovative Delivery of the South Suburban Airport.”
Completion of the estimated $700 million inaugural airport project is still years away. But Driskell told the room of stakeholders that the state needs “their expertise” to deliver the project as quickly as possible.
“We want to get ahead. We don’t want to be hurrying at the last minute,” Driskell said.
State officials scheduled one-on-one sessions Tuesday and Wednesday with seven investors or companies that have expressed interest in a public-private partnership. The meetings were designed to gather feedback on the project’s financial feasibility, Driskell said.
This summer IDOT purchased Bult Field – a general aviation airport near Monee and a key component of the state’s overall plan to develop the airport – for $34 million. The transaction covered 288 acres, including the airport’s 5,000-foot runway, taxiway, hangars and terminal, as well as additional farmland surrounding the airfield near Monee.
Prior to that, the state spent about $42 million acquiring about 3,000 of the 5,800 acres needed for the airport. In the last year alone, officials said, the state has acquired about 1,500 acres.
John Greuling, president and CEO for the Will County Center for Economic Development, attended the event. He said public-private partnerships are the way to go for major projects like the South Suburban Airport and the Illiana Expressway because state and federal funding is not enough.
“That’s probably the only way you’re going to get these projects built,” Greuling said.
Susan Shea, director of aeronautics for IDOT, noted about 1.7 million people live within a 45-minute drive of the airport’s proposed site, which is the equivalent of a large city.
IDOT officials continue to negotiate with property owners to buy parcels each day, Shea told potential investors. The state is in the condemnation process with 11 parcels of land totaling 386 acres and is preparing to make offers or is negotiating with 19 parcels totaling 910 acres.
IDOT also continues to work on its Tier 2 environmental study and the airport’s master plan to gain the Federal Aviation Administration’s approval.