NEAR WEST SIDE — The mayor is advancing a new heliport in the Medical District that would speed emergency treatment and organ-transplant transport, but also commuter trips to O'Hare and Midway for corporate bigwigs.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced Friday that he's introducing a City Council ordinance to accelerate the Vertiport USA-Chicago Project. It would create a new heliport on property owned by the Illinois Medical District Commission bordered by the Pink Line, Hastings Street, Wood Street and 15th Street.
"Chicago has not had Downtown helicopter access for a decade," Emanuel said in a statement. The helipad is 3½ miles from the center of the Loop. "This Vertiport will provide businesses and hospitals a key transportation link to Downtown Chicago from surrounding airports — an essential feature of most world-class cities that will enable faster emergency response and shorten travel times."
Key is the medical use. Currently, all emergency medical air transportation for the district, from patients to organ transplants, runs in and out of a nearby existing helipad at Stroger Hospital.
"The Illinois Medical District is the largest urban medical district in the country with more than 2,000 hospital beds and servicing thousands of walk-in patients daily," said Warren Ribley, IMDC executive director. "The Vertiport will allow our four hospitals and first responders to quickly tend to the needs of patients who require essential life-saving treatment."
Those flights will be given priority, along with Police and Fire Department helicopters. But the Vertiport will also be open to corporate business travel — at a price — allowing 15-minute trips from the Near West Side to O'Hare, Midway and Gary/Chicago international airports.
The Vertiport will replace the Stroger helipad and will cover 10 acres with a single takeoff and landing zone, a 30,000-square-foot hangar, two underground fuel tanks, a dedicated ambulance entry point and a 12,000-square-foot terminal. Groundbreaking is expected in the spring after it gains City Council approval.
Emanuel made the announcement Friday as he was cheering a $5 million grant from BMO Harris Bank to Rush University Medical Center to improve medical education at Malcolm X College.