A deal to have a private operator invest up to $100 million to run the Illinois International Port District, also known as the Port of Chicago, appears to be dead.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Friday shot down the deal, which was being negotiated between board members and contractor Savage Services. At Lightfoot’s urging, the board voted to reject the deal by a 9-0 margin. WTTW News first reported on the potential port deal on Wednesday.
Lightfoot says she believes the ports can do better.
“After discussing the proposed transaction between the IIPD and Savage Services with representatives of the Board, we have determined that the proposal is not in the best interest of the IIPD or the City,” Lightfoot said in a statement.
The terms of the deal were still being negotiated, but were likely to involve a 50-year contract with Savage Services to run the port in exchange for an investment of $100 million upfront. Savage Services, a transportation and logistics company that has been in business since its Utah beginnings in 1946, would keep 90% or more of the yearly revenue, resulting in less than 10% for the port.
“The Illinois International Port District (IIPD) is a major asset not only for Chicago, but for the entire region, and we must do everything we can to ensure that the Port serves as a driver of jobs and economic growth for the city’s south side and beyond,” Lightfoot said. ”The City of Chicago is committed to making continued investments that will maximize the Port’s potential as a major shipping and transportation hub, while ensuring that any future development strategies are anchored in a robust engagement process to ensure the voices of the city and the surrounding community are represented.”
The mayor appoints five members to the nine-member port district board, with the governor appointing the other four. The board includes former Ald. Rey Suarez and board Chairman Mike Forde, who has been a lawyer for former Mayor Rahm Emanuel. All of the current members predate the Lightfoot administration.
“The mayor’s office took a hard look at the deal, gave it a lot of thought, and decided that they did not think it was in the port’s interest to go forward, so they asked us to terminate the negotiations,” Forde said.
Civic Federation watchdog Laurence Msall has called for the dissolution of the board, saying it doesn’t operate transparently and isn’t accountable to taxpayers. The ports bring in about $5 million per year in revenue, mainly from shipping and storage fees, and from fees associated with the port-owned Harborside Golf Course.
The recent Illinois capital bill signed into law by Gov. J.B. Pritzker could provide as much as $60 million in state money to invest in crumbling infrastructure at the port to get it in better working condition.
In a statement sent to WTTW News about the deal, Savage Services’ communications director Jeff Hymas said:
“We were surprised and deeply disappointed to learn that the Illinois International Port District (IIPD) Board decided to suddenly reverse course and terminate discussions on a public-private partnership for management of the Port of Chicago. After many months, we were in the final stages of negotiating an agreement in good faith that would have had tremendous positive impact through our investment of tens of millions of dollars to revitalize the Port, support the community and create hundreds of local jobs. We have not yet heard directly from the IIPD and don’t know the reasoning for their decision. In March, the Board had voted unanimously to select us as their preferred partner in response to a request for proposals.
“For decades, the Port has struggled to take full advantage of its strategic location with great access to rail, truck and marine transportation, and to achieve its potential as a major transportation hub. We continue to believe that bringing in a qualified partner like Savage to manage and expand Port operations—which is quite different from privatization—would yield positive results for the city, state and local community. While we don’t understand the Board’s decision, we have several operations in Chicago and the surrounding region and will continue to do our part to make a positive difference in the communities where we do business.”
Follow Paris Schutz on Twitter: @paschutz
Note: This story was originally published Friday, July 19. It has been updated to include a statement from Savage Services.