CHICAGO — Chicago will explore taking a second stab at a Midway International Airport concession under the federal airport privatization pilot program, Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration announced Friday.
The city said in a statement it would test market conditions and interest in a possible lease but under sharply revised conditions from those attached to the city's failed 2009 Midway privatization deal or other past asset lease deals.
Former Mayor Richard Daley had reached a $2.5 billion pact to lease the airport to private operators but the deal fell apart in 2009 when the private investors could not raise the capital needed to finance the deal amid an international credit crunch.
The city has continued to reserve its hub slot under the federal pilot program but faced a Dec. 31 deadline to decide on whether to explore a deal or relinquish the spot. Chicago's chief financial officer Lois Scott will file a preliminary application, timetable, and draft for a request for qualifications to the Federal Aviation Administration ahead of the end-of-year deadline.
"I have instructed my team to take this next step to gain a complete understanding as to whether and how the potential lease of Midway Airport could benefit our taxpayers and airport travelers. No final decisions have been made, but we can't make a decision until we evaluate fully if this could be a win for Chicagoans," Emanuel said.
Daley's 2009 parking meter lease soured public and political opinion here on privatization due to operational problems, skyrocketing rates, the City Council's speedy approval, and Daley's use of most of the $1.1 billion in proceeds to balance his last several budgets.
"I have instructed my staff to ensure we mandate significant changes that protect us from the mistakes made with the parking meter deal," Emanuel said.
The city intends to limit the lease to no more than 40 years. While more favorable terms may help make any deal more palatable to the public and council members, they will cut deeply into the lease's market value. Much of the funds raised from any lease deal first must go to retire existing Midway debt and then must go to finance city infrastructure and shore up city pensions under a state law.