CHICAGO — Just days before the NATO Summit that he hopes will showcase Chicago as a global city, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced a plan Monday to build a massive, $200 million air cargo center that will solidify O'Hare International Airport as one of the world's largest air cargo hubs.
At a news conference at O'Hare, Emanuel said the new 820,000-square foot facility will dramatically increase the airport's air cargo capacity and create more than 1,200 construction jobs, 1,200 permanent on-site jobs and 10,000 jobs related to the development in the area.
The mayor's office said that the developer, Aeroterm, will pay $130 million of the construction cost, with $62 million coming from airport funds. The first phase of the facility would open in 2013, and the completed facility would be opened by 2020. Over the 35-year agreement with Aeroterm, the facility would provide about $600 million in economic benefits, according to Emanuel's office.
The mayor said that between the improving economy and a major modernization project to reconfigure and expand the airport's runways, which is already underway, it was a perfect time to move forward on a project that has been planned for years.
"This was the time to actually take it off the shelf, freshen it up," he said, pointing out that the city bought the 65 acres where the facility will be built in 1996. The project needs approval by the City Council, but Emanuel said he was confident that the aldermen would see the economic benefit of the project and approve it.
He said that O'Hare is already a major gateway for goods coming in and out of the United States, and its stature will only grow with such a project.
Further, he said, Aeroterm sees a "pent up demand. ... in the air cargo import-export business, and would not be making such a major investment if it didn't see the potential in the markets of the future."
One analyst who specializes in the air cargo business said such a project can increase revenues for an airport in a way that doesn't dramatically disrupt passenger flights at an airport that is already one of the busiest in the world.
"Because most of cargo flying is done at night when there's less air traffic congestion, it is a way to generate revenues for an airport from landing and ramp fees on an almost 24-hours-a-day basis," said Kevin Sterling, a research analyst with BB&T Capital Markets.
Emanuel also tried to put the announcement in historical perspective, saying that the facility represents a determination that was shared by his predecessors, Richard J. Daley and Richard M. Daley, to make and keep O'Hare one of the largest and busiest airports in the world.
"Both Mayor Daleys ... made critical investments that had the capacity to create economic growth," Emanuel said. "We are now making a critical investment in the cargo part of this airport."