"We will not allow our city, our assets and, by extension, its people to be undervalued any longer.” - Ald. John Arena
By Fran Spielman, City Hall Reporter
Chicago - O’Hare Airport’s international terminal will be transformed from what aldermen called an “embarrassment” to a concession showcase, under a 20-year deal approved Thursday by the Chicago City Council.
By a vote of 45-to-3, the City Council hired Westfield Concession Management to replace Chicago Aviation Partners, a clout-heavy partnership that includes Jeremiah Joyce, one of former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s closest friends in politics.
The three no votes were cast by Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd); Scott Waguespack (32nd) and John Arena (45th).
“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. Those are the days of the past, economically,” a triumphant Mayor Rahm Emanuel told aldermen after the vote. “This is a new future for the city. This contract and the process that [preceded it]…will be, to quote Emerson, `the shot that was heard across the world’ because Chicago will no longer operate the way Chicago did…In past deals, nobody showed up because everybody knew, before the process started, what the end result would be. And that did not happen for the first time….And that will be now the rule of the day going forward.”
Although the process dragged on for months, Arena complained about a lack of transparency. He also likened the agreement to the widely disparaged 75-year, $1.15 billion deal that privatized Chicago parking meters.
“As I did in committee, 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 for the city,” Arena told fellow aldermen. “I encourage my colleagues to join with me in sending in message that we will not allow our city, our assets and, by extension, its people to be undervalued any longer.”
For much of the Daley administration, international terminal concessions were controlled by Chicago Aviation Partners, a partnership between Duty Free International and McDonalds that has included Joyce as a part owner and paid consultant.
The contract expired in 2003. It has been extended on a month-to-month basis ever since, as the city tried three times to open the lucrative business to competition — and lobbyists lined up on all sides.
Westfield is represented by lobbyists Thom Serafin; Tim Dart, who’s the brother of Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart; and attorney Demetrius Carney, the Police Board president whose reappointment by Emanuel was confirmed by the full City Council on Thursday.
The firm’s property-tax appeals have been handled by the law firms of Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th), chairman of the City Council’s Finance Committee, and Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan (D-Chicago).
Chicago Aviation Partners is represented by former Cook County State’s Attorney Richard Devine and Victor Reyes, who headed the old Hispanic Democratic Organization, one of former Mayor Daley’s political armies.
The 20-year contract, with a 10-year opt-out clause, calls for Westfield to quarterback concessions at O’Hare’s international terminal and overhaul that shopping space to meet post-Sept. 11 realities.
Unlike O’Hare’s domestic terminals, 95 percent of all concession space at the international terminal is located on the land-side — before passengers pass through security checkpoints.
That leaves overseas travelers — who routinely arrive hours before their flights are scheduled to depart — high and dry while they’re waiting at the gates. Aldermen called the current configuration an “embarrassment” that Westfield will spend $26 million to erase.
Last week, Joyce returned to the City Council chambers where he served 33 years ago to warn aldermen they were leaving more than $100 million on the table.
On Thursday, Emanuel made the opposite argument.
“Both on substance and on process, this is a new day for the city of Chicago, and, most importantly, it’s a new day for the taxpayers, who have been taken for granted, month after month, year after year,” the mayor said. “And it’s cost them $39 million in lost revenue. Now, we are gonna scrap through a budget line by line trying to find that money.”