By Robert Sanchez
The DuPage Airport in West Chicago contributes more than $117 million a year to the county’s economy, according to a new study.
While that number doesn’t live up to a prediction made more than five years ago, airport authority officials say the operation is “pretty strong,” especially in the aftermath of the economic downturn.
“We think we have the platform on which to build the business and grow over the next few years.” said David Bird, the airport authority’s executive director.
The authority, which is supported by about $6.1 million in property taxes annually, commissioned the study to determine the economic impact of the airport. Gruen Gruen and Assocs. was paid $22,000 to do the analysis.
The firm concluded that the airport and its related activities – including the Prairie Landing Golf Club and the DuPage Business Center – are responsible for 963 jobs and this year are expected to generate about $1.3 million in tax revenue for various local governmental entities. The estimate includes property, sales, hotel and utility taxes.
However, those jobs and tax estimates fall significantly short of what authority officials predicted in February 2007. For example, the business park alone was expected to create thousands of new jobs.
Bird said no one anticipated the financial collapse that hampered efforts to find tenants for the 800-acre business park, which is located just south of the airport. Even the airport itself lost “some large tenants” because of the recession, he said.
“While it (the aviation business) has been growing since then, it’s been growing at a very modest rate,” Bird said. “That being said, we think that in the context of this environment, the authority is performing about as well as we possibly could.”
Improvements are being made to the airport. A $3.5 million project is under way to extend the secondary runway to about 6,350 feet. The primary runway is about 7,570 feet long.
Meanwhile, authority officials are hoping that a different approach will attract more tenants to the nearly vacant DuPage Business Center.
In addition to recently changing its name, officials broadened the purpose of the business park to allow for more potential uses, including light manufacturing.
The authority also got permission from the Federal Aviation Administration to sell about 450 acres of developable land at the business park. Now the authority can pursue potential users who would rather own – not lease – their parcels.
All the revenue from land sales will come back to the airport. Buyers would be required to develop parcels within a certain amount of time.
Officials said they believe the business park now has a better probability of being developed. The ultimate goal is to increase the airport’s overall revenue to the point where it could come off the property tax rolls. “That has always been the goal,” Bird said.
Source: CHICAGO DAILY HERALD