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Artist’s rendering of a planned project at Midway Airport. | Provided rendering

Midway Airport getting 1,400 more parking spaces, new concessions and security checkpoints

SHARE Midway Airport getting 1,400 more parking spaces, new concessions and security checkpoints
SHARE Midway Airport getting 1,400 more parking spaces, new concessions and security checkpoints

Two years after pulling the plug on a deal to privatize Midway Airport, Mayor Rahm Emanuel is taking the airport’s future into his “own hands” by confronting Midway’s biggest weaknesses and passenger annoyances: parking, security and concessions.

On Thursday, Emanuel took the wraps off a $248 million overhaul that will give Midway 1,400 more premium parking spaces, a Taste-of-Chicago-style concession makeover with more space and 27 security lanes, instead of 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 a single operator chosen after a “request-for-proposals” (RFP) issued next month. The makeover is modeled after the concession overhaul at O’Hare Airport’s international terminal.

Midway’s main parking garage will be expanded sideways to include four additional floors with 1,400 more premium parking spaces. That will allow passengers to avoid time-consuming shuttle buses to remote parking. And it will give CTA Orange Line riders shelter from the elements.

All told, it’s the biggest upgrade of the Southwest Side airport since former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s $927 million reconstruction project that included a new terminal.

The plan will be bankrolled with revenues generated by the airline ticket tax and airport revenue bonds.

By 2019, it’s expected to double Midway’s $89.2 million in annual concession revenue while creating 1,000 temporary construction jobs and 700 permanent concession jobs.

Roughly 7,000 square feet of new concession space and more comfortable seating will come first. The parking garage and security hall will go out to bid in “about a year” with construction to follow, paving the way for additional concession space. The entire project is not expected to be completed until 2020.

Daley rebuilt Midway before putting it on the block, only to have the deal fall apart for lack of financing.

Emanuel’s plan to make a major investment in the one-square-mile airport-in-a-neighborhood doesn’t necessarily preclude privatization, either.

But at a news conference at Midway Thursday, the mayor slammed the door and swallowed the key.

“We’re going to take Midway’s future into our own hands. We’re going to modernize Midway with these investments. This modernization says that Midway will continue to operate the way it has been operating,” the mayor said.

Emanuel noted that customer spending at Midway is “$3-to-$4 below” what the average airline passenger spends at competing airports.

“That is because the experience needs to be enhanced,” he said.

Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans said it’s pivotal for the city to “maximize non-airline revenues” to support the investments that airlines need to make “to grow their business.”

Equally important, she said, is to upgrade the “customer experience” at Midway.

“We want to have a broader retail offering. We want to have a little bit more quality food offering. More choices for passengers. Menus that change more quickly. We want to incorporate the use of technology into our concessions so that people can order online and pay online and get their food more quickly,” Evans said.

Does that mean ordering by smart phone or tablet and getting food delivered to passengers waiting at the gate?

“That will be one of the concepts that will be considered. You’ll hear me talk next week at O’Hare. We’re going to roll that out at O’Hare very quickly before we do” Midway, she said.

“But in this [Midway RFP], the tag line is, `We want innovation. We want the best products. We want the best services. We want the best technology in the country, in the world brought right here to Midway. It’s a significant improvement in the offering we have today.”

Ald. Mike Zalewski (23rd), chairman of the City Council’s Aviation Committee, said he can’t wait until the security checkpoint nightmare has been put to rest.

“When that bridge first opened, there weren’t as many lanes as there are now and we didn’t have the relationship with the TSA that we have now. There were six lanes there. And sometimes, three or four TSA security people would decide to go on break . . . and leave it down to two lanes,” Zalewski said.

“There have been times when the line has been all the way back to the Orange Line bus station. It was probably every bit of two blocks long. Until we got the TSA situation straightened out, many, many people missed their flights because they were in line too long.”

The 1,400 close-in parking spaces will also be a welcome respite, particularly for families traveling with young children.

“This garage is going to allow a lot more people to park right by the terminal and just come in without having to be shuttled over . . . It’s a few blocks away. It’s at 55th and Laramie, compared to right here attached to the terminal,” the alderman said.

“There’s a lot of people with kids when they’re traveling. You’ve got to get `em in the stroller. Put `em on that shuttle. Bring `em over. Like a rent-a-car situation. Here, they can just walk in.”

The upgrades showcased Thursday mark the latest chapter in Midway’s roller-coaster ride.

In 1992, Mayor Daley infuriated his Southwest Side political base by declaring plans to close Midway Airport within five years — after his now-defunct Lake Calumet Airport was up and running —and turn it into an industrial park.

Twelve years later, Daley joined the CEOs of ATA and Southwest Airlines to bask in the glow of the $927 million reconstruction project that turned an airport resembling a “ghost town” when Midway Airlines folded into one of the fastest-growing airports in the nation, serving 18.5 million passengers a year.

“I once called Midway the ‘comeback kid of airports.’ When you look around today, Midway’s story seems like Cinderella. Once taken for granted. A little shabby. Now, attractive and ready to move into the future,” Daley said on that day.

Daley’s Midway makeover nearly quadrupled the size of the passenger terminal, added 19 new gates and built a new customs facility that paved the way for direct international flights for the first time in 50 years.

Cicero Avenue was moved 2,300 feet to the east to ease traffic flow and improve airport access. The new Midway also has 50,000 square feet of restaurant and retail concession space, up from 18,200 square feet.

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Artist’s rendering of a planned project at Midway Airport. | Provided rendering

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