Leaders from Prospect Heights and Wheeling presented a united front Monday, agreeing to proceed to more study into tapping the potential of Chicago Executive Airport.
But they wouldn’t yet fully endorse a longer runway that might displace residents and businesses. And they were divided on whether to continue with the airport’s chief executive.
The airport’s municipal owners jointly met to discuss the findings of a 40-page report by consultants hired to plan for Chicago Executive’s future. And the report’s author, Crawford Murphy & Tilly, should “be running the show, not Mr. Priester,” said Wheeling Village President Dean Argiris, referring to airport CEO Charlie Preister, whose contract is up at the end of the month.
Priester was made the $6,000-a-month chief executive last July and, at the time, said a longer runway would keep the airport relevant among its corporate fliers, touching off strong opposition from neighbors who feared it would bring more noise and pollution overhead and displace homes and businesses.
Priester’s primary job is overseeing the study’s first phase, while a second would create an overdue, long-term master plan for the airport.
Argiris, however, sought to distance Priester from Chicago Executive, saying that if Crawford Murphy & Tilly chooses to use “Mr. Priester’s services, it should be from them, not from the airport.”
“Maybe there’s no need for him. Maybe he works for somebody else,” said Argiris, suggesting he could be hired as a consultant for the firm, if it so chooses.
Argiris’ comments came after an hourlong presentation by Crawford Murphy & Tilly.
The firm was tasked Monday not to embark on a full-fledged Phase 2 but to complete four objectives, expected to take a year.
Those include an in-depth survey of the airport’s users, an analysis of development opportunities around the airport that responds to the current constraints — height and other zoning restrictions chief among them — and the creation of an advisory committee of neighbors and airport officials.
When asked about Priester’s job status, Prospect Heights Mayor Nick Helmer said: “He took us to this point. He should have the ability or the assignment to finish what he started. I wouldn’t want to bring in anyone new.”
Now, the airport’s board of directors will submit a new budget for approval from Prospect Heights aldermen and Wheeling trustees. Both sides failed to adopt a spending plan for a fiscal year that started early last month, waiting instead to see the “Visioning Report” from consultants before earmarking $275,000 in expenses.
That money would have paid for the costs of conducting the second phase of study and for the salary and a possible bonus for Priester.
One of the major tenets of the report argues that redevelopment of Chicago Executive Airport and its surrounding area could generate millions of dollars in additional revenue for the facility’s co-owners, as well as provide an economic boost to the region.
“When the needs of the airport are transected with the needs of its sponsoring communities, what emerges is a blight-to-boon scenario where aviation development can repurpose underutilized, less economically viable urban areas while growing the aviation activity and the direct and indirect revenues that benefit the communities,” according to the report.
Several officials from Prospect Heights and Wheeling said a longer main runway should be studied, but they stopped short of endorsing it.
Prospect Heights 1st Ward Alderman Lora Messer voiced her opposition to extending the runway south through neighborhoods.
“Nobody wants to be run out of their home,” she said. “I just don’t think displacing families is worth expanding the runway.”
The Phase 1 report states that the airport’s current runway lengths provide a barrier to accommodating some aircraft, and a survey of 200 corporate jet operators found that half won’t use the airport because of the runway length. Of that half, 90 percent said they would use the airport if it had longer runways, according to the report.