Monday, June 30, 2014

Gary Airport's P3 Operator Gets Credit For Alternative Fuel Plant

The Gary Airport Authority recently entered into a 40-year privatization agreement with a Virginia-based company, Aviation Facilities Co., Inc. ("AFCO") to manage the city's airport. Under the terms of that agreement, it was required to cause at least $10 million in development investments at the airport by mid-2015 and another $15 million within the following four and a half years. The Northwest Indiana Times reports that AFCO has already met its initial $10 million investment requirement. Carmeuse, a Belgian mining company, will develop an alternative fuels plant across the street from the airport that will cost exactly $10 million. Although it has absolutely nothing to do with aviation, AFCO will receive credit for the alternative fuels plant, which will supply Carmeuse's nearby lime-processing facility at Buffington Harbor.

Keith Benman's report in the Northwest Indiana Times asks what an alternative fuels plant has to do with aviation. State Rep. Ed Soliday, who chairs the House Transportation Committee, tells Benman there doesn't seem to be an overall vision for the airport or the land surrounding it. An official with Gary Mayor Karen Freeman's office tells Benman that people need to "expand their thinking" and "take a long view" when it comes to developing the airport. An aide to Freeman says that AFCO's role as operator of the airport was critical to Carmeuse's decision to develop the 130 acres with an alternative fuels plant, suggesting there were conversations between the two even before the authority entered into its P3 agreement with AFCO.

The co-founders of AFCO, Gerald Halpin and Francis Chambers, are both military veterans. Halpin became a very successful businessmen serving the military/industrial complex at Atlantic Research Corporation after his service in the Navy during World War II. Halpin co-founded West Group Management, a hotel and high-end resort developer. Tyson's Corner is one of his most well-known developments. Chambers joined Halpin's West Group following many years in the U.S. Marines where he held high-level fiscal and logistics positions within the military. At Halpin's West Group, he played key roles in the development of cargo facilities at Washington's Dulles Airport and Philadelphia International Airport. It's not hard to figure out how Carmeuse and AFCO crossed paths in the past.

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