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“If you believe that,” the saying goes, “I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell you.” Edwin Feo and John Schmidt haven’t gone that far — yet — but they may have done the next best thing. The pair hammered out a lease that put the Chicago Skyway toll road, a 7.8-mile elevated roadway linking Chicago to northwestern Indiana’s riverboat casinos, in private hands; it was the first privatization of an American toll road. And while the Skyway may not have the iconic status of the Brooklyn Bridge, it comes close: The heavily traveled 47-year-old landmark is known as the “Gateway to Chicago.” It is also a cash cow. The Skyway brings in more than $50 million annually, but Chicago city officials — facing increasing debt and budget deficits — needed to engineer a cash infusion. The Skyway was there for the milking. That’s where Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw corporate partner John Schmidt came in. Schmidt, 62, had long been a believer in toll road privatization. In fact, in an unsuccessful campaign for governor of Illinois in 1997, Schmidt called for elimination of the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority. Chicago mayor Richard Daley refused to endorse Schmidt in that race, but now he was ready to award a big piece of business to Schmidt, asking him to serve as the city’s primary counsel on the deal. Legally, the Skyway deal was a no-man’s-land — its closest precedents were municipal privatizations in Canada and Europe. But it was politically sensitive as well. That was an irresistible combination to Schmidt, whose career straddles the public and private sectors. Throughout the process one company stood out, says Schmidt — the Cintra-Macquarie Consortium, a joint project between a Spanish company and an Australian bank. Cintra-Macquarie, which runs 30 toll roads around the world, brought in independent consultants to analyze the Skyway’s traffic patterns. “I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a more intense level of due diligence in a corporate transaction,” says Schmidt. The lawyer behind the investigation was Feo, 53, a Los Angeles�based project finance veteran who cochairs Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy’s utility and energy practice. About a year earlier, Feo had helped Macquarie Bank Ltd., one of Cintra-Macquarie’s parents, win the franchise for California state Route 125 in a $635 million deal. State Route 125, a nine-mile road stretching from the Mexican border to San Diego, was probably the closest American precedent to the Skyway deal, says Feo, but it differed in that Macquarie would actually build the highway, rather than take over an existing one. Read the full dealmaker profile and the complete corporate scorecard by subscribing to The American Lawyer.

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