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Midway makeover picks up steam; city seeks proposals to expand garage

The city is moving ahead with a plan to expand garage parking at Midway Airport. | Sun-Times file photo

Three months after a 15-year, $75 million makeover of Midway Airport concessions was cleared for takeoff on a runway crowded with clouted contractors, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration is finally forging ahead with the next phase of his $323 million airport overhaul.

City Hall has issued a request-for-proposals for a “terminal parking garage expansion” that will give the land-locked Southwest Side airport 1,400 more premium parking spaces.

The ambitious makeover unveiled in 2015 called for Midway’s main parking garage to 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. The new floors also will cover the CTA Orange Line stop, sheltering train riders from the elements.

The request for proposals due back June 27 includes far more detail. There is no cost estimate yet for the garage expansion; city officials will have a better idea once the proposals are in.

The work includes expanding the terminal parking garage over the city access road and CTA Orange Line rail yard; temporary relocation of CTA “kiss and ride” drop-off area; a new exit from Cicero Avenue; a dedicated vehicle lane to the parking facility; a new garage entrance bridge and plaza; and rebuilding the pedestrian walkway connecting the CTA station to the airport.

The project also includes a retrofit of the existing retaining wall; modernizing the terminal parking garage; new parking access and revenue control for the terminal garage and other airport facilities; replacing static and dynamic signs on surrounding roadways and at airport parking facilities; rehabbing the pavement on Kilpatrick Avenue and the exit plaza; and relocating regional bus departures.

Two years ago, Emanuel put a fork in plans to privatize Midway and took the airport’s future into his own hands by confronting Midway’s biggest weaknesses and passenger annoyances: parking, security and concessions.

The mayor took the wraps off what was then a $248 million overhaul that will add parking and concession space — and also expand the security to 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 to 300 feet; it’s 60 feet wide now. That will create an 80,000 square foot “security hall” with 20,000 square feet of additional concession space.

The parking garage and security hall contracts were supposed to go out to bid last year with construction to follow. The entire project was expected to be completed by 2020.

That ambitious timetable was pushed back — while the cost ballooned to $323 million — by nearly a year of behind-the-scenes maneuvering on the lucrative concession contract that spawned a demand for a federal investigation.

In February, the logjam was broken. The City Council chose Midway Partnership LLC to invest $75 million to renovate and expand Midway concessions. That space will nearly triple, growing to almost 70,000 square feet from 26,000 square feet now.

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.

The concession makeover will be completed in phases to avoid disrupting passenger amenities. It got underway earlier this month when Midway Partnership brought in “21 new food and retail brands and several new amenities” for air travelers.

The addition of Chicago favorites was billed as the “first major upgrade” to Midway concessions in more than 15 years.

Ald. Mike Zalewski (23rd), the chairman of the City Council’s Aviation Committee whose ward includes Midway, could not be reached for comment on the proposed parking garage expansion.

On the day the Midway makeover was announced, Zalewski portrayed the promise of 1,400 close-in parking spaces as 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 then.

“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.”

Zalewski has 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 has 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.”