By Hal Dardick and Kristen Mack Clout Street
4:08 p.m. CDT, July 28, 2011
Mayor Rahm Emanuel won approval today of a 25-year deal that will replace a clout-heavy concession operator at O’Hare Airport’s international terminal with a company that’s pledged to invest $26.2 million to improve the quality of shopping and restaurants.
After the 45-3 vote in favor of Westfield Concession Management, Emanuel declared “a new future for the city,” one with more transparency and fairness in contract negotiations. Noting the prominence of the international terminal, he quoted Ralph Waldo Emerson, saying approval was “a shot that was heard around the world.”
“For years, Terminal 5 has been operating on a month-to-month contract, costing the city and its taxpayers millions of dollars in lost revenue,” the mayor said. “Those are the days of the past. Chicago will no longer operate the way Chicago did.”
In the past, no one scrutinized the details of contracts, “because everyone knew what the outcome would be,” Emanuel added. “That will no longer be the rule of the day going forward.”
But the victory did not come without opposition and a small measure of controversy. Three independent-minded aldermen voted against the deal, saying they still knew too little about the details.
Ald. Ricardo Munoz, 22nd, Scott Waguespack, 32nd, and freshman Ald. John Arena, 45th, raised the specter of the much-maligned long-term parking meter lease, which marred the reputation of previous Mayor Richard Daley.
They aruged that as with the meter deal, aldermen did not have enough time to review the details of a too-lengthy contract that paid the city too little money.
“With just two months in the council, I have a fuller understanding of just how a deal such of that could have been done,” Arena said. “I will vote no to this deal today, not because of who is getting the contract, but for the fact that they are getting it for too small a return to the city.”
But independent Ald. Joe Moore, 49th, a longtime critic of former Mayor Richard Daley and how much information he shared with aldermen, said there was no comparison.
“I can tell you that this process was different, and is different than what we may have experienced in the past.” Moore said.
“All of my questions were answered,” he added. “All of the documents that I needed to make a decision were provided. . . . I think if we are comparing where we are today to where we have been in the past, there is a light year’s difference.”
He also noted Westfield had “a track record” in airports throughout the country, while the losing company, Chicago Aviation Partners, had failed over an 18-year period to attract enough quality shops and restaurants in convenient locations beyond the security checkpoints, when passengers tend to need them most.
“It really is an embarrassment,” he said of the current state of shops and restaurants. “They didn’t get the deal because they’ve done a miserable job so far.”
Other aldermen agreed that Emanuel’s administration offered up far more information than would have been under Daley, whose reputation was marred by the meter deal.
“I can assure you, from previous experience, this has been transparent,” said Ald. Sandi Jackson, 7th. “We have an opportunity to ensure that this airport is a world-class airport that matches the global needs of a global city.”
Ald. Leslie Hairston, one of only five aldermen to vote against the meter lease, said, “I think that this is a much better proposal.”
The contract also was endorsed by United and American Airlines, the two largest at O’Hare, long one of the world’s busiest airports.
Westfield runs the concessions at eight other airports, noted Ald. Michael Zalewski, 23rd, chairman of the Aviation Committee.
“This group has been a proven industry leader, and we now have a chance to bring them here as a partner,” he said. “Westfield will make significant infrastructure improvements, add first-class amenities to terminal five, increase revenues to the airport and create 300 jobs.”
The 25-year Westfield proposal guarantees the city at least $5.1 million in annual rent in addition to the renovations.
Chicago Aviation Partners had ties to Daley, even though the recommendation to dump it in favor of Westfield was first made when he was still mayor.
Westfield, however, was not without key connections. It’s lobbying team included Tim Dart, brother of Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, and Demetrius Carney, president of the Chicago Police Board.
Among CAP's shareholders is Jeremiah Joyce, one of Daley's political advisers. Former Cook County State's Attorney Richard Devine lobbies for the group.
Joyce testified briefly. He urged aldermen to look closer at the proposals.