July 2, 2013

Developers of a new vertiport near Chicago’s downtown business center hope to break ground on the 10-acre project later this summer and begin operations next year.

The vertiport, which differs from a heliport by being designed for use by tiltrotors as well as helicopters, will be constructed at Wood and 15th streets on land owned by the Illinois Medical District Commission (IMDC). The property is a few miles southwest of downtown Chicago and immediately south of I-290, the Dwight D. Eisenhower Expressway. The vertiport will be about three miles from where Meigs Field (CGX) was located on the Lake Michigan shoreline, and will provide the first public-use helicopter landing site near Chicago’s Loop since former Mayor Richard Daley closed Meigs in 2003.

Mike Conklin, a former Marine One helicopter pilot, has been working on the vertiport project with IMDC officials since 2006. Within the past year, Conklin joined forces with Stephen Quazzo, a real estate investor who is CEO of Pearlmark Real Estate Partners LLC. Construction of the vertiport is expected to cost approximately $10 million, and the two men say they have $13 million in financing from private investors in hand.

The 10-acre vertiport site is about 1,000 feet long, north-to-south, and about 420 feet wide, east-to-west. Plans call for construction of a 15,000-square-foot terminal and a 30,000-square-foot hangar capable of accommodating up to 30 helicopters.

The facility’s proximity to downtown is expected to make it attractive to a number of helicopter operators. Conklin said there are ongoing conversations with established helicopter tour operators who have expressed interest in providing aerial sightseeing flights from the vertiport. As part of the agreement with the IMDC and state aeronautics officials, emergency medical services helicopters will be permitted to use the new facility without paying a landing fee.

Business travelers are expected to be major users of the vertiport, which will be 6.2 miles from the approach end of Midway’s (MDW’s) runways, Conklin said, and outside the airspace controlled by O’Hare (ORD). That means VFR flights below 1,900 feet will be able to access the vertiport without having to deal with air traffic control to request clearances.

Ed Forst, director of aviation for The Duchossois Group of Wheeling, IL, and president of the Chicago Area Business Aviation Association, credits Conklin for his determination to see the project through, and his ability to address political and air traffic control issues.

Forst is confident that the vertiport will be a success, and mentioned the 6-0 vote by the IMDC approving the project, adding that there has been a change in the attitude among city leaders about aviation since Rahm Emanuel succeeded Daley as mayor in 2011.

Emanuel supports the vertiport project, Forst said, because “he realizes we are about the only major city in this country that does not have any helicopter services to downtown – which is absurd.”