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Helicopter Tours Near Pilsen? Neighborhood Groups Say They Had No Clue

By Chloe Riley | February 7, 2014 8:33am
 A tour company is looking to move its operation to the south branch of the Chicago River.
A tour company is looking to move its operation to the south branch of the Chicago River.
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DNAinfo/Casey Cora

PILSEN — Several neighborhood community groups said they had heard nothing about a proposed heliport that would border the Pilsen neighborhood and serve as a base for aerial tours and chartered flights.

"Honestly, this whole thing is a bit of a sucker punch for us," said Jerry-Mead Lucero of the Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization.

Lucero, who said he just found out about the plans for the heliport at 24th and Halsted streets earlier this week, said his group had just begun discussing plans for the Illinois Medical District heliport, just north of of Pilsen.

Now, he said, his group is concerned about potential pollution from both operations.

"It seems to me, from what I've seen, both of these projects have been kept largely under the radar," said Lucero, who's also concerned about noise levels from helicopters taking off and landing close to the neighborhood.

"We're a bit overwhelmed. One is bad, but two is really bad," he said.

Wheeling-based Chicago Helicopter Express has proposed the privately funded $12.5 million facility, which would sit on the bank of the Chicago River's south branch near 24th and Halsted and would include helicopter landing and departure pads, a water taxi dock and observation deck.

The company's helicopters would fly at 1,300 feet and mostly follow flight paths toward Lake Michigan along the nearby expressways. Tourist flights would follow one of several patterns that would whisk riders toward the lake, offering picturesque skyline views.

Both area Aldermen James Balcer (11th) and Danny Solis (25th) support the project.

"After reviewing all the aspects of the proposed heliport, I am in full support of the project, and I think it will be a great benefit to the City of Chicago," Solis wrote in a July 18 letter. "The heliport will be a significant boost in Chicago tourism in terms of both visitors and city revenue, it will add over 40 new jobs, it will attract new business to the city, and it will reduce the commute time to and from Downtown to a matter of minutes."

Solis' office did not immediately respond to questions regarding community engagement on the proposal. 

Similarly, community groups Greater Pilsen Economic Development Association and Pilsen Alliance said they only learned of the proposed heliport this week after receiving media inquiries.

"I don’t think there's enough information on this project," said Nelson Soza of Pilsen Alliance. "There's a safety concern and an environmental concern, and I think the community needs to know more about it."

The project is expected to go before the city's Plan Commission on Feb. 20.