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$75 million Midway Airport concession revamp cleared for takeoff

Travelers at Midway could see more concession options under a contract approved by the Chicago City Council on Wednesday. | Sun-Times File Photo

A 15-year, $75 million makeover of Midway Airport concessions was cleared for takeoff Wednesday on a runway crowded with clout-heavy contractors.

The contract with a group known as Midway Partnership LLC was approved at an action-packed City Council meeting dominated by business legislation.

The flurry of actions included drastically reducing license fees to pushcart vendors; loosening constraints on home businesses; allowing small businesses to file their city taxes on a monthly basis; making it easier for the city to crack down on contractors who do unauthorized or shoddy work; and easing disclosure rules on Chicagoans who supplement their incomes by listing their homes or spare bedrooms on Airbnb.

No longer would Chicago hosts be forced to turn over their guest lists to the city without a subpoena or court order. The change is aimed at strengthening the city’s case in a pair of ongoing legal challenges and complying with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling involving San Francisco’s home-sharing ordinance.

The Midway concession deal was, by far, the biggest political prize.

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.

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, NorthAmerican Concessions, a company owned by Timothy Rand’s mother, Devon, is part of the winning team.

“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,” Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans has said.

The Rand connection is not the only clout on the winning team. It also includes longtime Emanuel allies Becky Carroll and Plan Commission chairman Martin Cabrera.

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.

Despite the clout parade, Emanuel said Wednesday that the high-stakes competition was fair.

“It could not have been a more open, competitive, transparent process that delivered a real product so we can modernize Midway and continue to be a city that attracts businesses here,” the mayor said.

Evans is giddy about the amenities and upgrades in store for Midway passengers. The plans include such brands as Calvin Klein, Billy Goat Tavern, Intelligentsia Coffee and Cooper’s Hawk, according to bid documents.

“Instead of a couple of offerings, we’re gonna have a multitude of offerings for customers. 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,” she said.

“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.”