The gravy train arrived at City Hall on Thursday. It departed with a 15-year agreement to overhaul and operate concessions at Midway Airport.
The City Council chambers were filled with lobbyists, movers-and-shakers and assorted hangers on as the Aviation Committee signed off on a high-stakes contract with a clout-heavy group known as Midway Partnership LLC.
Midway Partnership is a joint venture of SSP America Inc., Vantage Airport Group and Hudson Retail LLC. The politically connected Rand family that has operated Midway concessions for years is part of the deal, despite questions about the company’s eligibility as a minority subcontractor.
Timothy Rand’s Midway Airport Concessionaires reported 2014 revenues of more than $30 million, making it the biggest beneficiary of the status quo at the airport. The deal expired the year before last but he’s continued to hold onto the business as the bid process for the new deal languished with no public explanation from City Hall.
The city had let Rand’s company continue to keep its Midway contract even though his net worth far exceeded the federal limit for minority firms that enjoy preferential status in winning business at the nation’s airports.
Now, a company led by Geneva Mansaw — the widow of Rand’s late father — is part of the winning team.
In a letter to the federal Department of Transportation’s inspector general last summer, a lawyer for UNITE HERE presented city documents showing close ties between Rand’s Midway Airport Concessionaires and Mansaw’s NorthAmerican Concessions Inc.
“We request that your office investigate whether NorthAmerican Concessions is controlled by its president, and whether she is an economically disadvantaged individual sufficient to qualify” her company for preferential treatment in the bid process, wrote the lawyer, who did not return calls seeking comment.
On Thursday, Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans was asked why Rand’s mother was allowed to be part of the deal and what assurance the city has that Timothy Rand would not be calling the shots.
“Devon Rand is . . . the certified owner of NorthAmerican Concessions. It’s a different member of the Rand family. Their certification was reviewed carefully and verified by . . . the certifying agency. We have no basis to question these certifications,” Evans said.
Evans said “multi-generational” firms are “fairly normal” in the minority and disadvantaged business program.
“They grow up in the business. People who grow up in the construction business tend to go into their dad’s business. People who grow up in the food business tend to go into their dad’s food business,” Evans said.
The concession makeover is pivotal to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to confront Midway’s biggest weaknesses and passenger annoyances: parking, security and concessions.
The $248 million Midway overhaul will give the Southwest Side airport 1,400 more premium parking spaces, a Taste of Chicago-style concession makeover with more space, and 27 security lanes — up from 17 — to unclog a notorious passenger bottleneck.
The dramatic increase in security checkpoints would be made possible by widening a pedestrian bridge over Cicero Avenue from 60 feet to 300 feet. That will create an 80,000-square-foot “security hall” with 20,000-square-feet of additional concession space.
Existing Midway concessions are also in line for a dramatic upgrade to improve both the array of passenger choices and the technology used to deliver food and retail offerings. Spa services, lounge facilities, fine dining and medical services will be added.
All of the concessions will be turned over to Midway Partnership. The agreement calls for the joint venture to invest $75 million to renovate and expand Midway concessions from 26,000 square feet of space to nearly 70,000 square feet.
The Rand family matriarch is not the only clout-heavy participant in the bid team.
The team also includes longtime Emanuel allies Becky Carroll and Plan Commission chairman Martin Cabrera and features such brands as Calvin Klein, Billy Goat Tavern, Intelligentsia Coffee and Cooper’s Hawk, according to bid documents. Many of them attended Thursday’s hearing.
City records show SSP America has paid $360,000 in lobbying fees to John Dunn, a former top aide to Mayor Richard M. Daley, and more than $200,000 to other City Hall lobbyists, including John Borovicka, who worked for Emanuel when Emanuel was a congressman.
On Thursday, Evans noted that the deal would double Midway’s concession workforce to 1,400 employees, create 250 construction jobs and bolster the city’s sales tax revenues by $10 million.
She bubbled over with enthusiasm as she talked about the amenities and upgrades in store for Midway passengers.
“$75 million of investment. 700 new jobs. Everyone gets a raise on day one. Instead of a couple of offerings, we’re gonna have a multitude of offerings for customers,” the commissioner said.
“We’re gonna have more services down near the gates so you don’t have to go through the middle core of Midway and schlep your cold bagel down to the end of the concourse. You’ll be able to get hot food at your gate. And it’ll be delivered to you in a much more modern, technological, supportive way. You’re gonna see much better service and product and food offerings and lots of jobs. And of course, we get the parking garage too.”
Cabrera denied that his clout got his food and beverage company Cielo Concessions a seat on the Midway gravy train.
“It’s our experience on the food and beverage side and management and working in different airports,” Cabrera said after sitting through the three-hour hearing.
“We’re in . . . two right now: Boston and [New York’s] JFK” and Midway will be the third, Cabrera said.