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Emanuel wants digital billboards at O’Hare and Midway

6-8-10 Terminal 3 ay O'Hare...American Airlines. Brian Jackson/Chicago Sun-Times

6-8-10 Terminal 3 ay O'Hare...American Airlines. Brian Jackson/Chicago Sun-Times

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Updated: April 14, 2013 6:47AM

Three months after getting the go-ahead to put up 34 digital billboards near Chicago area expressways, Mayor Rahm Emanuel wants to do the same and more at O’Hare and Midway Airports.

At Wednesday’s City Council meeting, Emanuel plans to introduce an ordinance that would authorize advertising giant Clear Channel Airports to develop, install and operate digital advertising concessions at the two airports.

The agreement includes a minimum annual guarantee of $8.6 million or a percentage fee of 71 percent of sales, whichever is greater.

In exchange, Clear Channel would be free to take full advantage of, what City Hall calls the “ongoing evolution” of digital media. Highlights include:

A 15-foot digital globe suspended from the ceiling of Terminal 3, billed as the first of its kind in the world.

More than 350 digital screens to replace static billboards that exist today.

Interactive digital directories, sorely-needed power-charging stations and virtual concierges for air travelers.

Recycling centers with 70-inch digital screens.

Vertical “living walls,” featuring “foliage and water elements.”

Rotating exhibit areas for Chicago area museums.

AIRChicago radio and AIRChicago magazine.

A free, location-based mobile app, known as “FlySmart,” that allows frequent fliers to “interact with the unique airport environment.”

In a press release, Emanuel said it’s high time O’Hare and Midway get an advertising face-lift.

“The new advertising platforms will enhance the look and feel of the global gateways to our city — O’Hare and Midway — with vibrant, dynamic displays and interactive features that set a new world model for other cities and airports to follow,” the mayor said.

“It includes cutting-edge technology that will inform and entertain travelers and help them better navigate Chicago’s airports. The agreements also provide opportunities for disadvantaged businesses and will optimize concession revenues to the airport.”

Clear Channel has been a fixture in Chicago airports for more than three decades. The company is billed as the world’s largest airport advertising company, with a presence in 287 airports in 32 countries.

The company was chosen after a request-for-proposals (RFP) issued three months after Emanuel took office.

In December, the City Council voted 43 to 6 to sign off on Emanuel’s plan to let bus shelter operator J.C. Decaux and its partner, Interstate Outdoor Advertising put up, 100-foot tall digital signs on city property adjacent to the Kennedy, Dan Ryan, Stevenson and Eisenhower Expressways as well as the Chicago Skyway and Illinois Tollway.

In exchange, the companies have guaranteed Chicago taxpayers $15 million in 2013 and $154 million over the 20-year life of the contract. The city hopes to generate as much as $270 million over 20 years through a revenue sharing arrangement that starts with 50 percent of the first $25 million.

Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd), one of the six dissenting aldermen, complained that the deal had “parking meter lease [written] all over it. It’s deju vu all over again.”

“Are all of us supposed to say this amount of money is the highest and best we can get for a 20-year lease? I don’t know that and I suspect most of us don’t know. ... Technology is rapidly changing. Twenty years is an awful long time,” Fioretti said on that day.

The alderman further argued that digital billboards would “deface one of our best assets” — the Chicago skyline — at a time when the trend across the nation is to ban digital billboards.

After the vote, Emanuel rose to challenge aldermen who dared to oppose the new revenue stream.

“If you have other ideas where you want to produce the $15 million from your residents, bring it up. I haven’t seen it. If you want to give me … $15 million in service cuts, I haven’t seen that,” the mayor said on that day.

Emanuel noted that Chicago’s 1,300 billboards generate just $1 million in annual revenues.

“We’re gonna produce hundreds of millions of dollars so we continually don’t have to ask our residents for that money. We’re gonna make the [billboard] industry pay it — all these companies that have been taking our taxpayers to the cleaners,” the mayor said.

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