O'HARE — City and airport officials crowded among a sea of boxes and forklifts Wednesday to unveil the first completed section of the O'Hare Northeast Cargo Center, a massive new shipping center being built at the airport.
Approved in 2012, the $220 million project was funded mostly by the real estate company Aeroterm, buffeted by about $62 kicked in by airlines. Per an agreement with the city, the facility will "provide $600 million of economic benefit to the airport," officials said.
The warehouse sits on 65 acres of previously undeveloped land on airport property.
Speaking inside the sprawling new building, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the airport hasn't been pulling its weight when it comes to cargo handling.
"Chicago is only fifth in the United States and seventh worldwide when it comes to how much cargo we transport, and I think it's been underperforming as it relates to what its capacity is," he said. "This investment, and the jobs that come with it, will allow Chicago to actually fight in its weight class in terms of what we can do with economic growth."
But the facility's impact on the volume of cargo flights will be "minimal," instead "significantly improv[ing] cargo processing efficiency at O'Hare," according to Owen Kilmer, a spokesman for the city's aviation department.
Airlines at O’Hare handled more than 1.6 million tons of air cargo in 2015, its highest volume ever, officials said.
Shipments began pouring into the completed warehouse in mid-October, Kilmer said, with a second building aiming to start operations next March. The third and final phase of the addition is still "in its planning stages, he said.
Once completed, the entire facility will employ about 1,200 full-time workers, officials said, with the new traffic spurring the creation of an estimated 10,000 more jobs "throughout the region."
Cargo planes account for about 11 percent of overnight flights at the airport, according to data collected by the Sun-Times.
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