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City testing 'new marketing concepts' at O'Hare

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City Hall is testing "new marketing concepts" at O'Hare Airport that are expected to generate up to $750,000 next year.

The next time you wash your hands in an O'Hare Airport restroom, you might see more than your own reflection in the mirror.

City Hall is testing "new marketing concepts" at O'Hare that call for ads to be plastered on everything from 3-D bathroom mirrors and marketing kiosks to escalator handrails, moving walkways, and motion sensor LCD screens.

They're even slapping ads on those plastic bins that passengers use to put their shoes and valuables in while they're passing through security checkpoints.

It's yet another outgrowth of Mayor Daley's five-year-old "municipal marketing' plan to turn city assets into money makers.

The airport ads are expected to generate up to $750,000 next year. But, Aviation Commissioner Rosemarie Andolino insisted that money is not the only motivation. Some of the ads serve a dual purpose.

An ultra-violet light in the escalator ad "sanitizes the rail…For H1NI issues and others, it allows us to sterilize the handrail as well as greeting people when they're entering the escalator-with a ‘Welcome to Chicago' or some other ad," Andolino said after testifying Friday at City Council budget hearings.

"Our goal is [also] to have all of that new technology tie into our…alert system. So, if there was some type of an emergency, we would be able to override these systems and actually inform people-whether it be evacuation or information."

Advertising creep became an issue at Wrigley Field with the illuminated Toyota sign above the left-field bleachers and the giant macaroni noodle just outside the ballpark.

Andolino does not anticipate similar complaints at O'Hare. She insisted that the ads would be both "classy" and functional.

"It's informing them of what restaurants might be nearby, what salons services could be nearby, what type of children's entertainment. Fifty percent of our [passengers] don't leave the airport. So it's our opportunity to inform them of the great things Chicago has to offer," she said.

The city is also planning to offer "higher profile entertainment" at O'Hare and install more "recreational areas" to occupy antsy children enduring long delays while traveling with their parents.

Already, Terminal 2 has a mini-version of the Children's Museum. The new offerings could be everything from more museum space to indoor playgrounds.

As if that isn't change enough, a makeover of O'Hare concessions is in the works that will provide an opportunity to showcase more Chicago restaurants, instead of national brands. It'll provide more concession space in non-secured areas where loved ones wait.

A ten-year food and beverage contract held by HMS Host is due to expire. Other concessionaires are operating on a month-to-month extensions.

Unite Here Local 1 is demanding that more than 1,000 employees who work for HMS Host be guaranteed jobs with any replacement company and that those workers be paid a "living wage" of $11.03-an-hour.

Andolino said competing companies would be asked to submit employee "retention plans" with their bids. But to mandate either job security or a living wage may not be legally possible, she said.

"I can't do anything until I find out from the Law Department what the risks are," said Andolino, who met with the union earlier this week.

Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd) warned that, if necessary, organized labor's City Council allies are prepared to "change the law…If somebody doesn't like it, they can sue us. They do it all the time."