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"Chicago committee approves Westfield agreement to develop O'Hare Airport T5 concessions"
Friday, July 22, 2011
Aldermen Back Major O'Hare Vendor Deal
By HUNTER CLAUS
Chicago News Cooperative
In the first major contract dispute of his tenure, Mayor Rahm Emanuel's
preferred bid to revamp and operate concessions at part of O'Hare
International Airport received preliminary approval from a City Council
By a 14-1 vote, the council's Aviation Committee endorsed a 20-year contract
with Westfield Concessions Management, which will replace Chicago Aviation
Partners at O'Hare's International Terminal 5. The ordinance is expected to
go to the full council for a final vote next week.
Westfield and CAP had hired clout-heavy lobbyists to battle for the
lucrative opportunity. Then-Mayor Richard M. Daley gave his backing to the
Westfield deal in the final months of his administration, but he could not
win approval from aldermen wary of long-term contracts after the city's
unpopular 2008 privatization of parking meters.
Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30th Ward) said Aviation Department officials have
provided much more information about the O'Hare deal than the Daley
administration had given the council before the vote on the parking meter
lease. "It's nothing like that," Reboyras said at the committee meeting.
Rookie Ald. John Arena (45th) cast the only dissenting vote Thursday. Arena
said he did not receive revenue projections for Westfield until Wednesday.
"We were doing our homework and checking everything we were told," he said.
"It just wasn't coming out of the wash that this was the best deal."
Arena appears unlikely to be the lone "no" vote in the council. At
Thursday's committee hearing, Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd), who is not on
the panel, also spoke against the deal. Waguespack said the agreement is too
long, and he expressed disappointment that Emanuel aides did not release all
the bids until "the last minute."
"I think that the lack of transparency over the last few weeks and months
has been very worrisome for me," he said.
To calm jittery aldermen, the Emanuel administration added an exit clause to
the contract that allows the city to back out after 10 years. The city would
have to repay half of the project's construction cost and also fork over an
amount equal to 110 percent of the rent payments made by Westfield's tenants
in the deal's 10th year. Westfield has promised to invest $26.2 million at
Aviation Commissioner Rosemarie Andolino told aldermen that terminating
Westfield's contract could cost the city $8 million, but she added that the
money would not come from fees collected at the airport and not from
In her testimony, Andolino touted a 20-member evaluation committee that
unanimously selected Westfield's bid. A roster of the panel obtained by the
Chicago News Cooperative last week showed that the committee had only seven
voting members - all city officials.
Andolino said the city used a "thorough and transparent" selection process.
American Airlines, which had a representative on the evaluation committee,
sent a letter in support of Westfield's bid, saying the selection process
for reviewing the bids was "fair and unbiased."
Westfield would supplant a long-time operator of airport concessions that
boasts the clout of Jeremiah Joyce, who was a top Daley adviser. Joyce, who
has not been seen at a council meeting in years, surprisingly testified on
behalf of CAP's bid to retain the contract.
"There's one issue as I see it, and that's the issue of money," Joyce said,
adding that he believes the revenue projections provided by Westfield were
"hocus pocus, mumbo jumbo numbers."
Speaking to aldermen, the white-haired Joyce reminded them of his deep ties
in local politics.
"I was in the first campaign with six or seven of you, and served with a
couple of your fathers," Joyce said. "I have never lobbied one of you on
this manner. I've never lobbied one of you."
Westfield's lobbying team also boasted some big names in local political
circles, including Tim Dart, the brother of Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart,
and Gyata Kimmons, a former Daley aide who was a top official for Chicago's
failed 2016 Olympic bid.
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