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O’Hare airport perishables center on track for summer opening

The three partners who have been chosen to negotiate a contract to build-out and manage a perishables center at O’Hare airport in Chicago met with Chicago city officials April 3 and expect to open the new facility in June or July, one of the partners, Shlomo Danieli of Blooming of Beloit, told The Produce News April 19.

“We believe we could be in operation in two weeks once we have the contract and budget in place,” Mr. Danieli said, noting that a final meeting with airport authority officials was in the offing at press time. Blooming of Beloit grows specialty cut flowers and foliage in Beloit, WI, and also imports flowers.

A coming-out party of sorts is scheduled May 15 at a Loop hotel, where the group that will manage the new perishables center will outline its plans and floral industry officials from Ecuador will present their plans for direct flights to the new hub, Mr. Danieli said. Floral industry wholesalers, retailers and suppliers will be invited to the event.

First stage of the O’Hare airport perishables center project will include a fumigation facility, installation of a cooler, and customs and pest inspection stations. “The second stage would add a distribution center for wholesalers and consolidation stations to process and transfer flowers and other perishables to other cargo flights for European and Far Eastern markets,” he noted.

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. The center would also become a drop point for domestic growers and truck lines, and, along with air shipments from France, Holland, Italy and Israel, their cargo would be consolidated at O’Hare. The new facility, first of its kind for Chicago, could reach more than 80 million people overnight.

Mr. Danieli’s partners in the project 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. The team has worked for three-and-a-half years on setting up a perishables center at O’Hare.

Floral Express specializes in the handling and logistics of fresh-cut flowers and related items serving wholesale and mass-markets and would be the “footprint” or model for developing the hub. 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.