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Aviation committee OKs digital ads at O’Hare, Midway

United Airlines Terminal O'Hare International Airport 2012.  | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

United Airlines Terminal at O'Hare International Airport in 2012. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

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Updated: May 4, 2013 6:23AM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel got the green light Tuesday to bring O’Hare and Midway airports into the digital advertising age amid concerns about sweetheart deals and Chicago turning into Las Vegas.

The City Council’s Aviation Committee approved a pair of five-year agreements with Clear Channel Airports and JCDecaux — with five more years of renewal options for each — that have the potential to enrich both clout-heavy companies while transforming the look and feel of the airports as well as the O’Hare people mover system.

Opposition to both deals came from the same aldermen who vehemently opposed Emanuel’s plan to erect 34 digital billboards near Chicago area expressways.

“We’re gonna become Vegas. I don’t think that’s what our personality is,” said Ald. John Arena (45th).

“Everywhere you turn, you see another sign, and it’s in your face.
. . . Just because we haven’t been doing it doesn’t mean we need to be doing it everywhere.”

Arena also objected to Emanuel’s decision to forge ahead with JCDecaux, although the French bus shelter operator, which has a piece of the expressway deal, was the only respondent to a contract that could be amended down the road to include billboards on the roadways leading to and from O’Hare.

For now, the contract authorizes JCDecaux to install outdoor advertising at O’Hare — including “exterior wrapping and interior displays” on the soon-to-be upgraded and extended people mover system and at people mover stations — in exchange for 50 percent of advertising revenues.

“When one bidder answers your bid, that’s a red flag to me that the RFP wasn’t comprehensive enough,” Arena said. “Why not put this section on hold and then, rebid it?”

Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) shared Arena’s concerns about the proliferation of digital advertising.

“Residents are fighting against digital billboards from the East Coast to the West Coast. . . . I don’t think it’s the wave of the future in other cities. It’s only the wave of the future in this city, which is all of the sudden racing to the digital billboard aspect as a means to fill budget holes,” the alderman said.

Fioretti said he got nervous when he looked out onto a committee room filled with lobbyists. They included Tim Dart, brother of Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart. The alderman noted that Clear Channel, Tim Dart’s client, lost out on the expressway deal.

“There were a lot of rumblings when we passed the signage that somebody was gonna file suit on it [but never did]. Is this a trade-off? I don’t know. People step back from things” for a reason, Fioretti said.

“I’m very concerned when I see a room filled with more lobbyists than citizens. . . . Follow the money.”

Aviation Commissioner Rosemarie Andolino brushed aside talk of a sweetheart deal and an oversaturation of digital advertising.

She argued that airports around the world have been making the switch to digital for years and that domestic airports like O’Hare are just now entering the “21st century.”

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