One jet landed and another took off Wednesday as speakers gathered on a dais to open the Gary/Chicago International Airport’s $1.5 million U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility.
U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Indiana, took note. So did Tim Fesko, chairman of the Gary/Chicago International Airport Authority.
“That’s the sound of success,” Fesko said of the planes.
“This is a historic moment because we are adding success upon success,” said Donnelly.
The new customs building sits just west of the Gary Jet Center, one of two fixed-base operators at the airport that have increased their capital investments as the airport expands. Lee Companies, of Gary, completed the renovations.
“We have a lot of momentum on our back,” said Fesko. “Customs represents the next step and the potential for game changing.”
Fesko said the customs facility, that will be operated by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency, represents a new market.
Airport Executive Director Duane Hayden said since the airport completed its runway expansion from 7,000 to 8,859 feet in 2015, operations increased 15 percent.
Meanwhile, the Gary Jet Center opened a new $5 million LEED-certified hangar and a $3 million terminal. B. Coleman Aviation, the other fixed-base operator, opened a $9 million terminal and a $5 million hangar. It’s planning to build four more hangars by 2020.
The Gary/Chicago International Airport Authority plans to add a $2.5 million corporate hangar to house tenants like Sage-Popovich Inc., and others, said Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson.
Lynn Eplawy, president of the Gary Jet Center, said her business has waited years for the customs facility.
“This is the last box we couldn’t check — international.”
Offering the ability for passengers to clear customs in Gary instead of another airport, should make a difference, said Eplawy who said there are 19 airports within 40 nautical miles of Chicago. “The landscape is competitive. We work hard to tell our story.”
John Girzadas, president of B. Coleman Aviation, said the customs facility will steer more air traffic to Gary. “The Gary/Chicago International Airport is becoming the business of choice,” he said.
Freeman-Wilson said the new customs facility is evidence the airport is growing, one of the city’s key priorities. “But we also want to offer opportunities for youngsters and create somewhere for them to come back to and work.”