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Franklin D. Roosevelt used to say that dealing with the U.S. State Department was like watching an elephant get pregnant: “Everything takes place at a very high level, there’s a great commotion, and then nothing happens for 22 months.”

Shlomo Danieli and his colleagues know the feeling. They have worked for three-and-a-half years on a quest to get a perishables center at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. In mid-February, the owner of Blooming of Beloit, an importer and grower of specialty cut flowers, and his two partners were notified they had been chosen to negotiate a deal to build out and manage the center. They began negotiations with city officials earlier this month.

“This is huge for all perishable imports and should lead to a big increase in the volume coming into O’Hare,” Shlomo Danieli told The Produce News Feb. 19. “We’ve got a green light for a hub,” he said. The new facility would be the first of its kind for Chicago, and could serve more than 80 million potential clients for overnight delivery.

Mr. Danieli and his partners praised the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce and the Chicago Department of Aviation for their vision for and support of the perishables center. They also credited U.S. Reps. Mike Quigley (D-IL) and Brad Schneider (D-IL) and former U.S. Rep. Robert Dold (R-IL).

Blooming of Beloit’s office is in Wilmette in suburban Chicago and its farm is in Beloit, WI. Partners with Mr. Danieli are Jim Richards, who for the past 11 years has owned and operated Floral Express Inc. in Chicago, and Sam Sax of Chicago, chairman of Financial Relations Inc., an international investment banking firm.

Floral Express specializes in the handling and logistics of fresh-cut flowers and related items serving wholesale and mass markets throughout Chicago and beyond. Mr. Sax, a retired senior Navy Reserve officer, has served in various positions for several U.S. presidents and on many banking, corporate and philanthropic boards.

Currently, flower importers “don’t want to come here because the facilities are lacking,” said Mr. Richards in a 2012 interview with Crain’s Chicago Business. “They’re clearing New York, clearing Miami, but held in Chicago.” Stage one of the new, 27,000-square-foot center will be housed in a 1960s-era structure with ramp access to the airfield for planes.  

In March 2012, Rose Pest Control of Chicago and Floral Express began operating and servicing a state-of-the-art fumigation facility at O’Hare that meets all U.S. Department of Agriculture requirements. The facility will become part of the perishables center, which will include refrigerated cooler space and customs and pest inspection stations.

The center would make O’Hare a hub for direct flights of imported cut flowers from South America for overnight transport throughout the Midwest and Canada, Mr. Danieli envisions. Also, flowers from California could be shipped by truck to the O’Hare center and flights from France, Holland, Italy and Israel also could be consolidated at O’Hare, he believes.

Further, Mr. Danieli, who will be a consultant to the partners operating the new center rather than an active manager, expects direct flights with cut flowers from South America destined for European and Far Eastern markets would be processed and transferred at O’Hare for shipment.

Mr. Danieli firmly stated that the new O’Hare facility will not compete with Miami, the premier import center for cut flowers from South America.

“This new center will improve distribution and add value for Midwest wholesalers,” he said. U.S. Department of Commerce figures for 2011 show Miami had flower imports worth $747.3 million; New York City, $43.5 million; and Chicago, $7.7 million.

“With the addition of this perishable cargo center at O’Hare,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel said in an August 2012 statement, “Chicago will be positioned to grow as a marketplace for a diverse array of goods, such as fresh flowers and food, from around the world.”