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Emanuel says new O’Hare cargo center will create thousands of jobs

Mayor Rahm Emanuel AviatiCommissioner Rosemarie Andolino walk news conference detailing new cargo center Monday O’Hare Airport.  |  Al

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Aviation Commissioner Rosemarie Andolino walk to the news conference detailing the new cargo center Monday at O’Hare Airport. | Al Podgorski~Sun-Times

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Updated: June 16, 2012 8:10AM

Military land at O’Hare Airport acquired by the city in 1996 for private development that never happened will finally get the international cargo center that former Mayor Richard M. Daley envisioned when he made that $104 million investment.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Monday delivered on his predecessor’s unfulfilled promise — by unveiling a $200 million project, he claims, will create 1,200 construction jobs, 1,200 permanent on-site cargo jobs and 10,000 regional jobs over the course of a decade-long development.

The 840,000-square-foot cargo center expected to open next year will be built on 65 acres of military land on the northeast quadrant of O’Hare. Aeroterm LLC, the city’s designated developer, will contribute $130 million to the project. Another $62 million will come from airport funds.

In March, Emanuel embraced a 10-year blueprint for revitalizing the moribund local economy that called for making Chicago a leading exporter.

Although Chicago ranks third in the nation among exporters, the city lags behind the competition in the proportion of goods exported with untapped potential among small businesses, the report concluded.

“This cargo facility will help us achieve the goal of doubling our exports over the next five years,” the mayor told reporters on the airfield.

Emanuel acknowledged that the cargo center has been talked about since the military land was acquired by the city in 1996.

Asked why it has taken forever to deliver the project, the mayor said, “You’re at the end of the road of the forever part. . . . Because we are building out a runway that will be open in 2013 that can handle the big, big air cargo [jets], this is the perfect time to make an investment in the cargo capacity.”

He added, “It’s been sitting fallow for a long time. . . . At one point, it was gonna be developed. [But], the economy went off the skids. With the economy stabilizing, with the pent up demand…in the air cargo/ import-export business, with our desire to build out this capacity — this was the time to actually take it off the shelf, freshen it up because it’s core to our economic strategy as a city.”

In 1996, Daley spent $104 million to acquire 359 acres of military land. When the Air National Guard’s 126th Air Refueling Wing moved out, there were big dreams that included hotels and a business corridor. There was even talk of extending the O’Hare people mover system to the military land to make the site more attractive for business development.

Instead, the land sat vacant 16 years after the military bid farewell to Chicago in preparation for a move to Scott Air Force Base in Downstate Belleville.

United Airlines was supposed to anchor development with an $80 million corporate headquarters on 30 of the military acres with an option to lease 50 additional acres. But, that deal fell through when the airline fell into bankruptcy. The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, had a chilling effect on the rest of the city’s plans.

Aviation Commissioner Rosemarie Andolino noted that Chicago is already one of the busiest cargo hubs in the world with more than 1.5 million tons handled last year.

O’Hare is also the No. 1 gateway for air imports from mainland China and a “dominant gateway” for air exports there, with more than 216,000 tons and 73,000 tons respectively, more than 25 percent of the U.S. total, she said.

“We continue to invest in this important component of O’Hare’s business, including adding new cargo carriers as well as making great progress on the O’Hare Modernization Program, which holds enormous benefits for both O’Hare’s air passengers and cargo business,” Andolino said, arguing that the cargo center will boost Chicago’s position as an “international air freight hub.”

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