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O’Hare terminal contract goes to same group running Midway Airport

Updated: July 15, 2012 3:38PM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration has chosen a new manager for O’Hare Airport’s international terminal — and it’s the same joint-venture that’s running Midway Airport.

Skyline Management Group has been awarded a five-year, $41 million contract to manage the $598 million international terminal and oversee a concession makeover that got under way this week.

The company was one of four to respond to the city’s “request-for-proposals” (RFP). They were chosen by an Aviation Department selection committee after technical advisors graded each proposal on price, professional qualifications, minority participation, experience, and approach.

Four years ago, then-Mayor Richard M. Daley signed a two-year, $21.2 million contract with Skyline Management that was supposed to tide the city over until the Southwest Side airport was privatized.

The Midway deal subsequently collapsed for lack of financing — prompting the city to extend Skyline’s Midway management contract for another two years. Emanuel plans to make a decision on whether to revive the Midway privatization deal by Dec. 31 after asking the Federal Aviation Administration for a series of extensions.

Skyline replaced a clout-heavy partnership that held the Midway contract since 2001 and included former Illinois Gaming Board Chairman Elzie Higginbottom, Daley’s chief fund-raiser in the black community.

Skyline is a joint-venture of three equal partners: Chicago-based Diverse Facility Solutions; Florida-based AvAir Professional Services and Texas-based ABM Facility Services.

Security and maintenance of the international terminal was first placed in the hands of a private manager 20 years ago, triggering a privatization frenzy under Daley that included a parade of other city services.

Since taking office a year ago, Emanuel has sought to rebid a host of lucrative airport concession contracts and spread the wealth beyond a clout-heavy few.

Why then, is the mayor turning the international terminal over to the same joint-venture that’s already running Midway?

“The goal of an RFP is not to ‘spread around’ business. The goal is to fairly advertise the business and, through a thorough vetting process, select the best qualified company to do the job,” Aviation Department spokesman Tammy Chase said in an e-mail to the Chicago Sun-Times.

“We’re not going to preclude doing business with someone just because they’re doing a job somewhere else.”

Skyline was chosen because they were the “best qualified to handle the management needs” of the international terminal “at an economically feasible cost” to the city, Chase said.

Skyline replaces Airport Property Management Group, a joint-venture comprised of Globetrotter Engineering, Tishman Midwest Management, Lou Jones Enterprises and SPANN Tech, which has been managing the international terminal for more than a decade.

Last summer, the City Council approved a 20-year concession contract that set the stage for Westfield Concession Management to spend $26.2 million to transform the international terminal from a shopping- and revenue-deprived “embarrassment,” as city officials put it, to a concession showcase that boosts airport revenues.

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

The shopping mall giant began construction this week on its plan to overhaul that space to meet post-Sept. 11 realities — and relocate security checkpoints to open up valuable room for more concessions.

Westfield replaced Chicago Aviation Partners, a clout-heavy partnership that includes Jeremiah Joyce, one of Daley’s closest friends in politics.

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