MEDICAL DISTRICT — Executives that need to fly — both figuratively and literally — to the city's airports from downtown now have another way to get off the ground.
Vertiport Chicago celebrated its grand opening at 10 a.m. Thursday. The 10-acre private vertiport at 1339 S. Wood St. is the largest facility of its kind in North America. The $11 million project, which serves helicopters and vertical take-off planes, operates on land leased from the Illinois Medical District.
It joins the new Chicago Helicopter Experience heliport at 2420 S. Halsted St. in Bridgeport in offering private helicopter access close to downtown.
Acting as a vital transportation link between airports and downtown, Vertiport Chicago will help the city recruit businesses, create jobs and expand tourism, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said.
"The new facility will help in our efforts to continue growing Chicago's economy and attracting new investment and businesses," he said.
The Vertiport Chicago site includes a single take-off and landing spot, parking spots for eight helicopters, a 30,000-square-foot hangar and private terminal. In addition to executive charters, the facility is expected to host sightseeing helicopter flights for tourists.
The company says its helicopters will make the trip from O'Hare Airport to its Near West Side facility in less than 10 minutes. It's another 3.5 miles to the heart of downtown.
The new facility is expected to enhance emergency medical response for patients, too. Under an agreement with the Illinois Medical District, emergency medical helicopters will have priority access and pay no landing fees as they serve patients in need of rapid transport or organ deliveries. Police and Fire Department air transport units and other government agencies will also have access to the facility.
Prior to Vertiport Chicago’s opening, all emergency medical air transportation for the district ran in and out of an existing helipad adjacent to Stroger Hospital, which will close, officials said.
Vertiport Chicago’s anchor customer is DHL, the global logistics company, which will make daily trips between its facility near O’Hare and Vertiport Chicago to more efficiently serve downtown firms.
Mike Conklin, president of Nighthawk Services, partnered with real estate investor Stephen Quazzo to launch Vertiport Chicago.
Conklin, who is also a former Marine One helicopter pilot, said the next-generation transportation facility would meet the city's needs for decades to come.
"This is a win-win that enables businesses like DHL to offer faster, smarter service to connect Chicago customers worldwide, while providing no-cost critical access to Chicago’s first responders and medical personnel when every second counts during lifesaving operations," he said.
The facility will also make helicopter flights to and from all regional general aviation facilities including DuPage Airport in West Chicago, Chicago Executive Airport in Wheeling and Gary/Chicago International Airport in northwest Indiana.
Chicago Helicopter Experience's Bridgeport heliport had a "soft opening" on April 18, though company officials there have refused to answer any other questions about the business since then.
Contributing: Mauricio Pena
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