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$26 million concession makeover at O'Hare's international terminal

People view tax duty-free shops located past security areas newly-renovated International Terminal 5 is unveiled O'Hare International Airport Friday April

People view the tax and duty-free shops located past the security area as the newly-renovated International Terminal 5 is unveiled at O'Hare International Airport Friday, April 4, 2014 in Chicago. It’s the first redevelopment since Terminal 5’s construction in 1993 and features sleek interior design upgrades that give parts of the terminal the feel of a comfy lounge or trendy nightclub. (AP photo/Daily Herald, Joe Lewnard) MANDATORY CREDIT, MAGS OUT,

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Updated: May 6, 2014 6:13AM

Overseas travelers arriving and departing at O’Hare Airport’s international terminal used to have a tough time finding a cup of coffee after passing through security.

Now, they’ll be able to get a massage, pedicure or facial, shop at “internationally-renowned” designer shops and get a taste of Chicago’s most popular restaurants.

On Friday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel proudly unveiled the $26 million makeover that has transformed the international terminal from a shopping embarrassment to a concession showcase more like London’s Heathrow Airport.

It includes 24 new retail and dining options, including 11 Chicago brands, and a redesigned TSA checkpoint.

“The good news is, when people come to the city of Chicago now, they get to experience not only a world-class city. They get the experience the moment they step off that plane,” Emanuel told a terminal full of dignitaries.

“The idea that, in the past, you couldn’t get a cup of coffee before you got on a plane and now when you get off, you get a massage tells you the difference . . . I know where I’m going when this is done.”

Emanuel noted that the timing for the concession makeover couldn’t be better.

Starting this weekend, Chicago is playing host to the U.S. Travel Association’s international market show for the first time since 1998. That means 6,000 travel planners and packagers from 70 countries will be flying into O’Hare.

The mayor referred to the remark Vice President Joe Biden made recently about New York’s LaGuardia Airport. Biden called it a “third-world” airport.

“I don’t want to say anything. I’m not that competitive as a middle child. But the vice president did have a comment about another airport. I’m not gonna say what he said. But when you come to the city of Chicago, you see what a first-class country with a first-class airport looks like. And welcome to America,” he said.

For much of the Daley administration, international terminal concessions were controlled by Chicago Aviation Partners, a partnership between Duty Free International and McDonalds that included Jeremiah Joyce, one of former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s closest friends in politics, as a part owner and paid consultant.

The contract expired in 2003. It was extended on a month-to-month basis until Emanuel took office, as the city tried three times to open the lucrative business to competition — and lobbyists lined up on all sides.

Replacing Chicago Aviation Partners was the first big test of Emanuel’s City Council muscle.

By a vote of 45-to-3, aldermen approved the 20-year contract with Westfield Concession Management after a rare public appeal by Joyce.

Chicago Aviation Partners then filed a lawsuit contending that the award to Westfield was the product of a “sham evaluation process” and would deprive O'Hare of $120 million because the company was not the highest bidder. The city won the case.

On Friday, Ald. Mike Zalewski (23rd), chairman of the City Council’s Aviation Committee, referred to that early political battle as proof of Emanuel’s “ability to take on a tough issue" just like the pension crisis is today.

“People were immediately telling him after the inauguration in May [2011] that, `This is going to be controversial. This is going to be politically sensitive,’ “ Zalewski recalled.

“We were sitting around a table in his office when those same sentiments came up: `Mayor, be careful with this. This is sensitive.’ And he said, `Yeah, yeah, tell me something that I care about. Tell me if this is gonna be good for the travelers at O’Hare and the people of Chicago. And to the person around the table, they also said, `Yes.’ Then, we took it to the City Council for a vote and it was overwhelmingly approved.”

Unlike O’Hare’s domestic terminals, 95 percent of all concession space at the international terminal was located on the land side — before passengers pass through security checkpoints.

That left overseas travelers — who routinely arrive hours before their flights are scheduled to depart — high and dry while they were waiting at the gates.

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