The protracted, clout-heavy fight over a multi-million dollar contract to run the restaurants and stores in O’Hare airport’s international terminal moved a step closer to being resolved today.
The City Council Aviation Committee endorsed Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s recommendation by voting for a contract with Westfield Concession Management LLC, a subsidiary of multinational shopping mall and concessions developer the Westfield Group.
As she has at prior hearings on the O’Hare plans, Aviation Commissioner Rosemarie Andolino testified that Westfield – which runs concessions at several airports around the country -- provides the most realistic revenue projections.
Aviation Committee Chairman Ald. Michael Zalewski, 23rd, read letters from officials at both United and American Airlines in support of the Westfield pact.
The 25-year Westfield proposal guarantees the city at least $5.1 million in annual rent as well as $26.2 million in renovations and new construction to the concession area.
If approved by the City Council next week, Westfield will replace Chicago Aviation Partners, the company with ties to former Mayor Richard Daley that has run terminal 5 concessions since 1993.
Aldermen were close to voting on the O’Hare contract near the end of Daley’s term, until Emanuel sent word he wanted a chance to review the proposals after taking office. Emanuel came out in support of Westfield early this month.
The committee vote was 14-1, with Ald. John Arena, 45th, the lone dissenter. Arena said aldermen didn’t have time to accurately assess the bids, because information on the plans was only released to them by the Emanuel Administration this week.
“I just wasn’t convinced the process was clear and transparent. The numbers just didn’t add up for me,” Arena said.
Both CAP and Westfield have City Hall connections.
Westfield’s lobbying team includes 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 closest political advisers. Former Cook County State’s Attorney Richard Devine lobbies for the group.
Joyce, a former alderman and state senator who has kept a low public profile in recent years, testified briefly. He urged aldermen to look closer at the proposals.
“You have this hocus pocus, mumbo jumbo numbers thing going on,” Joyce said. “And if I sat where you guys sat – or ladies – I would ask for some sort of a forensic audit on these projections and find out what the numbers really are.”
And Devine argued CAP’s $11.5 million annual minimum rent guarantee is far from the pie-in-the-sky promise Westfield supporters have said it is. But city officials have said CAP has always fallen short of revenue projections under its current contract.
As the high profile O’Hare contract moved toward a vote by the full City Council, Emanuel’s office also announced they will enact previously discussed initiatives the administration says will make contract bidding more transparent and competitive.
Open online bidding for city contracts will allow companies to repeatedly bid against each other, driving down costs, according to a news release from Emanuel’s office.
And contracts to be awarded without open bidding will be posted online before the city’s Non-Competitive Review Board votes on them, to allow public comment.
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