PILSEN — A company looking to bring a heliport to Bridgeport said it still planned to present its proposal to a city commission next week, despite several residents' concerns that they did not have enough information about the project.
About 50 people showed up for a Wednesday community meeting held at Pilsen’s La Catrina Cafe. Trevor Heffernan, CEO of Chicago Helicopter Express, spoke to the audience about his plan to build a $12.5 million heliport along the south branch of the Chicago River at 24th and Halsted streets in Bridgeport.
In addition to launching private helicopter tours, the proposed 4.6 acre facility would also include a helicopter hanger and public boat dock for the Chicago Water Taxi. Heffernan said the plan would create at least 50 jobs for local residents.
After Wednesday night’s meeting — and a Bridgeport community meeting held Tuesday that attracted more than 100 people — the Wheeling-based helicopter company is set to bring its plan before the city’s Plan Commission on March 20.
Attendees at Wednesday night’s meeting said the company did little community outreach about the project until recently, and several asked that the helicopter company delay the plan commission meeting so they could have more time to process.
“Right now it sounds like all we have are your assurances that all of these commitments will be honored,” said Pilsen resident Jill Salinas, who then requested the company delay presenting its proposal to the Plan Commission, which drew applause from the room.
Jerry Mead-Lucero, of the Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization, echoed that request, saying his group needed more time for research and to better grasp any harmful environmental effects the project could have on the neighborhood.
Heffernan said his group still planned to go before the plan commission next week. He reiterated that the flight paths of helicopters using the facility — from Bridgeport straight east above the Stevenson Expressway — would also bypass Pilsen by 2,000 feet and therefore noise would have “zero impact” on Pilsen residents.
“You will never see us, you will never hear us. Period, end of story,” said Heffernan, who also took pains to distinguish his group from the Medical District’s vertiport plan, a different helicopter project about to begin construction on the city’s Near West Side.
As of early February, community groups like Mead-Lucero's and Pilsen Alliance hadn’t even heard of the project. Later that month, 25th Ward Ald. Danny Solis — who initially approved the plan — pulled his support, saying more resident engagement was needed.
Solis spokeswoman Stacy Raker said Wednesday night the alderman still did not support the helicopter facility.
Ald. James Balcer, whose 11th Ward includes the proposed heliport site, backs the project, as did some of the residents at Wednesday's meeting.
Pilsen developer Howard Weitzman, who was also present at Tuesday’s Bridgeport meeting, said he thought the helicopter tours would have a positive effect on Pilsen businesses.
“You know, nothing stands still in this world. We either progress or we go backward,” said Weitzman, who lives in Bridgeport.
Last week, Redmoon Theater and Pilsen business group 18th Street Development Corp. both wrote letters of support for the proposal.
“We’re bringing people in here and they’re gonna fly and go eat and do things in the community. But that’s also gonna being new business to town,” Heffernan said.
The Plan Commission meeting on the project will be held at 1 p.m. March 20 at City Hall.