Friday, March 2, 2012
Chicago airports will upgrade shopping experience
Aviation commissioner says $26 million being invested in Terminal 5 at O'Hare
By Naomi Nix
The Chicago (IL) Tribune
Chicago Aviation Commissioner Rosemarie Andolino says $26 million in improvements are being made to Terminal 5 at O'Hare.
Chicago's airports are among those adding to their retail and restaurant offerings. Aviation Commissioner Rosemarie Andolino has been working on the redevelopment of Terminal 5 at O'Hare, the international terminal, where construction is set to begin this spring and negotiations with future tenants are under way. We asked her for an update on the retail plans in the works at O'Hare and Midway. Responses were edited for space and clarity.
Q: What's the status of the ongoing updates at O'Hare?
A: The $26 million improvement that we are making to (Terminal 5) is going to bring people through the duty-free so that you have to go through it. It's kind of like that impulse buy at a supermarket. You're not tucking it away in a corner; you're making it (available) right when they first come through security. Once they get through that concourse, we want to make sure they have good dining choices that appeal to a wide array of palates.
Unfortunately, for years at Terminal 5, you would get through security and there were no sit-down restaurants, there was no retail but a small duty-free and a small gift shop; nothing that was really exciting. For years, you couldn't even get a hot cup of coffee (past security) unless you were in a lounge, and that's unacceptable. We went out with a request for proposals for improvements a few years ago. Last year, with the support of Mayor Emanuel, we were able to award a contract for Terminal 5 to Westfield, who operates airport concessions all around the world. With their help, we are negotiating with restaurateurs, with retail operators and others to meet our goal of having a world-class facility in terms of retail, and food and beverage. They are looking at Chicago enterprises and national and international brands as well.
Q: What other services are you adding?
A: A new addition to both airports will be spa services. Our customers will be able to get anything from a 15-minute manicure to a facial or a massage. We also unveiled last year our O'Hare Urban Garden. We are cultivating vegetables and using them in our concessions. It's also a concession unto itself; it allows a quiet area where people can also get something to eat and drink or sit back and wait so they are not in the hustle and bustle of the holding area.
We are going to have a (short-stay) hotel. A mother traveling with children who wants to have a place where the children can nap or have some quiet time can rent a room for a couple of hours in between flights. So we really are trying to create different types of experiences for customers to suit all kinds of needs.
Q: What are the challenges in trying to make an airport more of a draw for shoppers?
A: I always say that one of O'Hare's strengths is that it's compact. People can go from Terminal 1 to Terminal 5 within a relatively short amount of time. Our strength is also our weakness, because it means we don't have a lot of real estate dedicated to a mall-like experience. Other airports, especially those abroad, have built more of that shopping experience within their facility. What we are trying to do is to best use our real estate and have a mix that has a little bit of everything, great retail and food and beverage, as well as service options.
Q: How significant are Chicago airports for the tourism market in the city?
A: It's important to us that we convey the essential feel and atmosphere of the city in our airports. At O'Hare, over 50 percent of our travelers connect — they never leave the airport. Tourism is such a huge component of our economy that we want to give them a taste of Chicago and encourage them to come back. We had over 85 million people come through our two airports last year.
Q: Does the money generated from airport concessions trickle back to Chicagoans?
A: Chicago airports are self-supporting, meaning we do not use any state or local tax dollars to fund our operation. We have an agreement with our airline partners that our costs are basically all paid for by our airlines; our revenue that we generate offsets those costs. Every time we generate more revenue at the airport, it goes then to offset the airlines rates and charges at Midway and O'Hare. The city has benefited from over $100 million annually in sales tax revenue (from the airports) to the city of Chicago.