CITY HALL — A north suburban helicopter tour company's plan to bring a heliport to Bridgeport cleared another procedural hurdle Tuesday with the City Council Zoning Committee's unanimous approval.
Tuesday's zoning committee hearing was the first time some aldermen publicly commented on Chicago Helicopter Express's proposal to build a heliport at 2420 S. Halsted St.
The Wheeling-based company is looking to install 14 pads for launching and landing the company's tour and charter helicopters, along with the creation of a hangar, observation deck and riverside water taxi dock.
Among the concerns for Downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) was the possibility of keeping the heliport open for wealthy, private helicopter pilots. In its proposal, CHE said private helicopters looking to land there would have to follow the company's federally approved flight path and undergo site-specific training.
Company CEO Trevor Heffernan acknowledged that allowing private helicopters is a possibility at the site, but that it's a "high-risk, no-reward situation" for his company and "not in our business plan or our intention."
Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) said the proposed location on the south bank of the Chicago River's South Branch isn't an ideal site. Other locations, he said, would be better for "safety, noise and positive impact on business."
The plan still faces serious opposition from neighborhood groups, who say CHE and its City Hall supporters "steamrolled" through the approval process with little regard for public input in the last few months.
Jerry Mead Lucero, an activist with the Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization, asked city leaders to hold off on a vote until they could co-host a community meeting in Bridgeport later this month.
"The community meeting the company organized, people were given [notice] three or four days, tops. That's not a real community process," Lucero said.
But for all of the opposition and hand-wringing in the last few months, several small business owners on Tuesday lined up to support the project, saying the influx of tourists would be a boon to their bottom lines.
Stephanie Fitzpatrick, owner of Fabulous Freddie's on 31st, said the heliport, with its expected stream of tourists, would "bring a new wave of customers to the area and expose Bridgeport to people who otherwise wouldn't visit the neighborhood.
"The trickle-down effect of those dollars will be felt by small businesses like myself," she said.
The heliport proposal is expected to go before the full City Council for a vote later this month.