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Region’s leaders celebrate progress on airport project

Front row, from left, Hazel Crest Mayor Vernard Alsberry, Congresswoman Robin Kelly, state Sen. Napoleon Harris, state Rep. Will Davis and state Rep. Anthony DeLuca gather around a sign that reads, “Buckle Up Southland. Prepare for Takeoff!” in reference to progress made recently on the proposed South Suburban Airport. (Eric Crump/H-F Chronicle)

U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly convened a news conference Tuesday, Aug. 22, at Governors State University to celebrate the signing of House Bill 2531, the law that enables the next stage in the development of a south suburban airport.

The bill authorizes the state to begin Jan. 1, 2024, to seek private partners to join the effort. Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the bill into law on July 28.

Kelly began her remarks by thanking everyone who had expressed sympathy and support for her after losing her husband, Dr. Nathaniel Horn, on Aug. 18. She said she had to attend the news conference in spite of her loss because the project is so important and has taken so long to get to this milestone.

That was the only subdued moment in the event as Kelly and nine other regional leaders thanked everyone who contributed to the long process of shepherding the project to this stage.

Kelly’s senior adviser Rick Bryant received thanks from more people than anyone else in the room for his decades of work promoting the project. GSU President Cheryl Green noted that she’d been given a several-hour tutorial by Bryant, and several of the other speakers credited him with educating them, too.

State Sen. Napoleon Harris, D-Harvey, who sponsored the bill in the Senate, was the first of several speakers to credit former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. for his early and passionate support for the project and Kelly for keeping the momentum going when she assumed the 2nd Congressional District seat in 2013.

Kelly said the airport would spur economic growth in the South Suburbs and “enhance Illinois’s world-class transportation system.”

Harris said the project could be a turning point in the south suburban economy.

“We collectively have an opportunity to revitalize the Southland,” he said. “This signifies jobs. This signifies economic opportunity. This signifies people wanting to move to the Southland to raise their families.”

Kelly noted that the goal as project planning continues will be to build a carbon-neutral airport.
Rep. Will Davis, D-Homewood, who sponsored the bill in the House, expanded on that theme.

“This can be the first net zero (carbon emissions) airport built, not only in the United States — and I’m not versed necessarily in what’s happening in other countries — but probably in the world,” he said. “We will lead the way in terms of creating sustainability. The Southland, yet again, rises to the top.”

Several speakers expressed hopes for jobs, opportunity and more revenue for municipalities struggling to provide services. Davis added the benefit to education to the list, noting that GSU would not only stand to receive better support but could contribute the ingenuity of its graduates to helping develop the airport and the regional economy.

“The future is so bright for us. If I could, I’d wear shades,” Davis said, riffing off the 1986 song by Timbuk 3, “The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades.”

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