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Heliport Project Loses Support of Ald. Solis

By Casey Cora | February 19, 2014 8:22am
 Ald. Danny Solis (25th) has withdrawn his support for a proposed heliport project near Pilsen and Chinatown.
Ald. Danny Solis (25th) has withdrawn his support for a proposed heliport project near Pilsen and Chinatown.
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CHICAGO — Ald. Danny Solis (25th) has withdrawn his support for a proposed heliport project that could affect residents of his ward in Pilsen and Chinatown.

Solis originally backed the project, which would transform a vacant plot of land on the banks of the Chicago River into heliport for tourist and charter helicopter flights, saying in a July 18 letter that the facility would bring jobs and attract new business to the city.

But in a letter issued to Plan Commission Chairman Martin Cabrera Jr. and Commissioner Andrew Mooney on Tuesday, Solis changed his tune.

“I have since learned that the developer has failed to meet with key neighborhood groups and has not secured formal support from any community organization,” he wrote.

The city’s plan commission is expected to vote on the proposal from Wheeling-based Chicago Helicopter Express on Thursday.

In addition to launching small tourist and charter helicopters, the company's plans for the property at 2420 S. Halsted St. include the creation of a water taxi dock, a terminal with a rooftop observation deck, a fueling station and a 17,500-square-foot hangar.

Although the project would be situated in Bridgeport in Ald. James Balcer’s 11th Ward — and has Balcer's backing — community groups in Pilsen were concerned that noise from the heliport would combine with interruptions from a separate planned heliport for executive and medical air traffic in the Illinois Medical District, potentially putting the Southwest Side neighborhood underneath the steady din of helicopter noise. 

Chicago Helicopter Express has said its fleet of top-notch choppers would keep noise and night flights to a minimum, with flight paths mostly along nearby expressways.

"The site's location and remoteness from residential buildings ensures that our operations will not diminish anyone's quality of life. CHE looks forward to providing safe and affordable tours and transportation for all," CEO Trevor Heffernan said in a statement.

Heffernan said the company "followed all public notice requirements" leading up to Thursday's plan commission meeting.

Told that Solis had pulled his support from the project, activist Jerry Mead-Lucero with the Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization said “that’s exactly the thing we’ve been hoping for.

“As word was getting out about the project, the uniform reaction has been ‘What?’ People were in shock about the plan. … We don’t know if [the heliport] is absolutely a bad thing because it’s so new. Our main concern is just halting this from going forward,” he said.