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CHICAGO-It’s back to Plan A for American Trans Air and its $125-million training facility for the Indianapolis-based carrier’s pilots and crews. Rather than a site north of Midway Airport, ATA will locate its 200,000-sf training facility with flight simulators at 7101 S. Cicero Ave., its first choice of sites.

Plan commission members Thursday recommended approval of ATA’s business planned development. The recommendation goes to the city council, where final approval is expected.

ATA was hoping all along to build on the 26.6-acre site one mile south of the airport, attorney Rolando Acosta tells GlobeSt.com, but was aced out by intervening contract. That forced ATA to look elsewhere, and the search led to a business park about a half-mile north of the market’s secondary airport. However, a deal never was done.

“That was a site that was more difficult to develop because of existing uses,” Acosta explains.

Fortunately, ATA was able to land at its original destination, a motor freight terminal. The airline will buy the land from Portland, OR-based CF Properties, but the property will then be deeded to the city’s department of aviation, which will then lease 23.1 acres back to ATA, explains Jack Swenson of the department of planning and development. The remaining 3.5 acres will be retained by the aviation department for parking, he adds.

Acosta says the airline prefers a lease because it makes the deal cost-effective, adding the airline’s investments are focused on jets and equipment. The city is paying for the land purchase through a bond issue, he adds, a subsidy worth $15 million.

In addition to building a four-story and two-and-a-half-story campus on 17.4 acres that it is leasing, ATA also will have the right to sublease 5.5 acres to a hotel and retail developer, Swenson says. ATA also may build another office building on its leased land at a later date, he adds.

“This is a major economic development for the Southwest Side of the city,” Swenson says. The airline, which employs 2,500 now, plans to double its work force in the next five years, he adds, including 110 employees at the training center. The airline’s growth has fueled expansion at Midway.

Drivers on heavily-traveled Cicero Avenue, which include shoppers at big-box retailers across the street from the ATA site, will be able to watch the student pilots in action, Swenson says. Designs call for the flight simulators and training facilities to be visible through clear glass, especially at night. Also, “One of the most distinguishing features is the centrally located arched roofs,” Swenson says.

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