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Panel agrees to ‘extended-stay suites’ for weary travelers at O’Hare

Travelers waited benches O'Hare day when heavy fog delayed many flights leaving from airport November 21 2012. | Al Podgorski~Chicago

Travelers waited on benches at O'Hare on a day when heavy fog delayed many flights leaving from the airport on November 21, 2012. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

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Updated: March 8, 2013 7:39AM

With a guarantee that O’Hare Airport will not become a “no-tell motel,” a City Council committee agreed Wednesday to allow second floor space in the rotunda between Terminals 2 and 3 to be turned into 29 “extended-stay suites” for weary air travelers.

Minute Suites plans to offer suites for $30-an-hour or $120 overnight for travelers in by 11 p.m. and out by 7 a.m. The 62 square-foot suites will include a daybed sofa, workstation, high-definition TV and personal computer with Internet access.

The Aviation Committee signed off on the agreement, one of 10 new concessions at a dozen locations at O’Hare domestic terminals expected to collectively generate at least $5.6 million in annual revenues for the city.

But not before aldermen raised concerns about creating a staging ground for terrorists and about hourly rentals that could turn Minute Suites into a haven for sexual trysts.

“The commissioner has guaranteed us that we won’t turn O’Hare into the No-Tell Motel,” said Aviation Committee Chairman Mike Zalewski (23rd).

Daniel Solomon, co-founder and CEO of Minute Suites, said the rooms are designed “very much like an office suite” and are not appropriate for sexual liaisons.

The license agreement guests are required to sign also states that Minute Suites is “not a hotel” and that company employees have “access to individual suites at any time,” Solomon said.

“If we would suspect that anything [untoward] is ever done — and staff are trained on that — we do have systems in place. Somebody who would commit something that is illegal — they’ll never be a guest with us again,” he said.

Aviation Commissioner Rosemarie Andolino acknowledged under questioning that there are no guarantees.

“What a couple wants to do on their private time, I can’t control that,” she said.

But Andolino argued that 50 percent of the travelers who pass through O’Hare “never leave” the airport and need a quiet place to unwind.

“It’s just a space….that’s controlled, monitored and you have to pay for that has a very sanitized, safe environment for them to either catch a few z’s or do their work. We’re providing an amenity our customers are looking for,” she said.

Ald. John Arena (45th) raised the security concerns without mentioning the word “terrorist.”

“You could look at this as a closed space that, if somebody was gonna look to cause some trouble, this would be a good opportunity,” Arena said.

“What does this company do in terms of additional security?…What are they doing to make sure that, within their space, that room is not used to allow for somebody to prepare to do something that we don’t want to happen at the airport.”

Andolino dismissed those concerns as unfounded.

“This is air-side. You have to have purchased a ticket to fly somewhere in order to gain access to the site and you have to pay for the use of this site,” she said.

“It’s not just a corner somewhere that someone can sneak in and just hang out. This is a monitored, controlled site.”

Solomon said his guest attendants escort people to their rooms through hallways monitored by surveillance cameras, then rely on airport security.

“Our staff have on speed-dial the TSA or the police, so if there is an issue, they can quickly get someone to attend to it,” he said.

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