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ROCKFORD, IL-Tandem Development Group LLC has broken ground on the first phase of a $40 million air cargo facility at the Chicago Rockford International Airport. The development, to be known as the Chicago Rockford International Cargo Center, will include 400,000 sf in three buildings on a 30-acre property at 60 Airport Drive. The first phase will include a $7.5 million, 72,000-sf speculative facility.

“Rockford will never be O’Hare, but what we envision is that we’re kind of a relief house,” Eric Voyles, VP of national business development for the Rockford Area Economic Development Council, tells GlobeSt.com. “There’s a lot of interest in continuing to grow opportunities at O’Hare, but at the same time, O’Hare has a lot of growth issues they’re trying to work through. We offer companies an opportunity to grow in the Chicago market without having to deal with the cumbersome nature and uncertainty of the planned expansion at O’Hare. We have the capacity now to serve any airplane that’s flying.”

Voyles says operating through Rockford can save company both time and money. He says the average taxi time at O’Hare is around 15 minutes, while it takes that long at Rockford for a plane to commit to land, land and taxi. “We’re talking about hours or 15 minutes,” Voyles says. “When you talk about the costs of operating an airplane, what is the true savings of operating out of Rockford rather than O’Hare?”

Tandem principal Paul Ahern says space at the Rockford facility in development will cost about half of comparable space at O’Hare. Asking lease rates for the space will be around $10 per sf, net, Ahern says. “The air cargo business is going through a lot of turmoil with the rise in fuel prices,” Ahern says. “We are really the low-cost alternative in this sector and we’re hoping we can attract business that way. There’s been a lot of interest in this project.”

The first building to be constructed will offer 28-foot-high ceilings, 20 exterior truck docks, parking for 100 cars and aircraft parking as needed. This first phase is expected to be complete by December. The development could have up to five phases depending on tenant demand, Voyles says.

Voyles says the space could be occupied by a diverse range of tenants. “It could be anything from a large aggregator that wants to set up a regional or hub facility, to an independent operator or freight forwarder that is looking for an opportunity to grow their business on the transportation side,” Voyles says. “The more that the project began to look like a reality, the greater the interest has been. Everyone is waiting to see if this thing materializes.”

Voyles says the Rockford airport is within 300 miles of Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Minnesota and Indianapolis, making it ideally situated for receiving and dispensing time-sensitive air cargo to those markets. Voyles says the area also offers the advantage of congestion-free transportation once cargo is off the plane. “If you unload around Chicago, once you get back on the interstate, you’re moving at 15 miles an hour,” Voyles says. “Within five miles of the Rockford facility, you’re going to be at 55 miles an hour moving. You’re not going to be paying to sit in traffic.” Additionally aiding rapid transit of goods, Voyles says four railways travel through the area, and cargo clears through customs within two days at Rockford, as compared to an average of three days at O’Hare.

CB Richard Ellis is marketing the facility, which is being constructed by Leopardo Construction, of Hoffman Estates. “Depending on how you look at the numbers, our airport is between the 19th and 22nd largest air cargo airport in the country,” Voyles says. “The ability to continue to grow into that air cargo, whether it’s package or heavy freight, is very, very strong.”

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