DuPage County

DuPage Airport getting a new leader as Chair Stephen Davis steps down

A nearly vacant business park had been a particular source of frustration for the DuPage Airport Authority board when Stephen Davis took over as chairman.

Former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert was one of the political architects of a project to build a high-tech research park on airport land in West Chicago. But those plans ran into turbulence, and development stalled.

Davis and other board members charted a new course by renaming the site, loosening development restrictions and hiring a commercial real estate firm to attract a wider spectrum of businesses.

The sprawling campus grew from a “stagnant proposed technology park” to what is now a “thriving DuPage Business Center,” Davis said. About 360 acres are either developed or under development, representing almost $49 million in land sales, airport officials say.

For Davis, the revitalization of the business park stands as one of his key achievements. He plans to step down from the board at the end of the month after nine years as chairman.

Announcing his resignation to DuPage County Board members, Davis gave only one reason for his departure, simply saying that “it’s time.”

“Rest assured, I leave it in good hands, and I can say without a doubt that I leave it a little better than I found it,” he said.

Fellow board members have chosen Herbert Getz to succeed Davis as chairman. Getz was first appointed to the board in 2018.

Following the leadership shuffle, DuPage County Board members on Tuesday will vote to appoint Davis’ son, Joshua, to the board and Anthony Giunti for the position of airport authority commissioner. County board Chairman Dan Cronin recommended both appointments.

A licensed private pilot, Joshua Davis also is president of The Will Group, a Wheaton-based firm founded by his father and comprised of lighting companies. Giunti is the assistant business manager of a local Electrical Workers union.

Davis was appointed to the airport board in 2004 by former county board Chairman Bob Schillerstrom. In 2013, Davis broke new ground when he replaced Dan Goodwin at the helm of the board.

“I was the first African American in DuPage County history to lead the agency,” Davis said.

He carried on a tradition of operating the airport, the third-busiest in Illinois, like a business. The airport authority levies $5.9 million in property taxes, down from about $18 million in 2003.

The board was able to reduce the annual tax levy by keeping the airport debt-free, profiting from fuel sales and generating other revenue, officials say.

The average homeowner pays roughly $12 a year in taxes to the airport authority and gets a “phenomenal return on investment,” Executive Director Mark Doles said.

A study released by the Illinois Department of Transportation late last year showed the airport contributed an estimated $1.5 billion to the local economy.

“I believe the taxpayers’ annual investment of $5.9 million, returning $1.5 billion in annual economic impact, is a good investment,” Davis said. According to the study, the airport supported 5,524 jobs in the region and accommodated “air cargo and business/corporate activity” because of the 7,500-foot length of its primary runway and proximity to the business park south of Roosevelt Road on the border of Kane County.

Only 70 to 80 acres of the business center are still available, Doles said. Those are smaller parcels that will likely be developed as manufacturing and office space, he said.

In all, the business center has seen more than 4 million square feet of private development, Davis said.

During his tenure, Davis also helped manage a similar turnaround at Prairie Landing Golf Club, a links-style course owned by the airport authority. Golfers played more than 29,000 rounds in 2021.

But on a personal level, Davis is the proudest of Tuskegee NEXT. Davis created the pilot training program for at-risk youths in honor of the Tuskegee Airmen, the military’s first Black pilots. The squadron flew combat missions during World War II, never losing a bomber to enemy fighters.

“Their example of patriotism and love of the country is a model that we all should aspire to,” Davis said.

Nearly 50 Tuskegee NEXT students are now licensed pilots.