Community Split on Proposed Heliport

Chicago City Council expected to discuss plan in an April meeting

One business organization representing Chicago's near south side says a proposal that would allow a company to build 14 helipads needs far more scrutiny.

"When a business requests zoning change, the community is supposed to have a voice at the bargaining table. Instead, we got a handful of community meetings called two weeks before the critical vote. The phrase 'bum’s rush' comes to mind," Rob Warmowski wrote in a post on the Bridgeport Business Association website.

With a unanimous vote, the Chicago Plan Commission on Thursday evening approved a plan to allow Chicago Helicopter Express to build and operate a heliport adjacent to the south branch of the Chicago River, near South Halsted Street and South Archer Avenue.

The company currently operates out of the Chicago Executive Airport and is looking to move. The Chicago City Council is expected to take up the measure during an April meeting.

Backers maintain the company would boost tourism. Businesses like Bridgeport Patsys, Redmoon Theater and Gio's Cafe, support the addition of the heliport and think it will lead to more tourism business in the neighborhood.

Critics have expressed concern over noise and safety and what they say have been vague details about what the company would offer to Bridgeport.

"The devil is in the details," wrote Warmowski. "We are business owners. We don’t believe in magic."

Specifically, BBA members say they want to know more about the number and type of jobs Chicago Helicopter Express would create, and how tourists, once in Bridgeport, would get around to local businesses.

The company's plan calls for the construction of 14 helipads, a terminal, a 17,000 sq. ft. hangar, water taxi dock and a refueling station with above-ground tanks. If approved, dozens of flights per day --  tours and charters -- would be made in and out of the heliport between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m.

Company CEO Trevor Heffernan said noise from the aircraft would blend in with the already-noisy surroundings: The Chicago Transit Authority's Orange Line, as well as the Stevenson and Dan Ryan expressways run nearby.

Additionally, he said the choppers would maintain a flight path above railroad tracks, the highways and the river.

Some residents still have concerns. 

"It is hard for us as residents to believe that, given the inherent nature of helicopter operations and the impact of prevailing winds on flights paths that the helicopters will, under no circumstances, be flown over homes and businesses," said Bridgeport resident Jill Salinas, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

Ald. Jim Balcer (11th), whose ward includes the project, fully supports Chicago Helicopter Express' plan. Ald. Danny Solis (25th) initially gave his support but withdrew it last month over concerns of how it would affect residents in his ward in Pilsen and Chinatown. He did not attend Thursday's meeting.

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