Chicago O’Hare International Airport on Friday unveiled its new $26 million remodeling of international Terminal 5, complete with 24 new upscale retail shops and restaurants, some of which are Chicago originals.
Airport officials conceded Terminal 5 for years was a "nightmare" for international travelers and an “embarrassment" for the city of Chicago because it was the first impression overseas tourists had of the city.
Travelers couldn’t even get a hot cup of coffee after passing through the security checkpoint, said Rosemarie S. Andolino, Chicago Department of Aviation Commissioner, who was joined Friday at the terminal’s grand opening by such dignitaries as Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Sen. Dick Durbin.
However, the grand opening on Friday showed off a dramatic remodeling. It included new dining options, such as Italian food and wine at Tocco, Mexican food at Tortas Frontera by master chef Rick Bayless, American food at Hub 51 and restaurants by Letttuce Entertain You Enterprises, including Wow Bao, Big Bowl, R.J. Grunts Burger & Fries and Urban Olive. Besides a new 10,000-square-foot duty-free store, retailers include boutiques by Salvatore Ferragamo, Luxury Watches, Emporio Armani, Swatch and locally owned Vosges Haut-Chocolat.
T5, as it’s called, even has a XpresSpa, for massages, manicures and facials.
"The idea that in the past you couldn’t get a cup of coffee before you got on a plane and now you can get off and get a massage tells you the difference," Emanuel said. "From now on, when you land in the world-class city, you’re going to get a world-class welcome in the city of Chicago."
The interior overhaul, the first since the terminal’s opening in 1993, comes just in time for Chicago’s hosting of a major international travel convention starting this weekend. The U.S. Travel Association's IPW trade show, which Chicago hasn't hosted since 1998, will take place April 5-9 at McCormick Place and is expected to attract 6,000 travel buyers and journalists from 70 countries.
The show is expected to have a direct economic impact of about $891 million and increase tourism by $1.6 billion over three years if it's anything like last year's show in Las Vegas, according to a report commissioned by the travel association.
Since Chicago last hosted that convention, and with increased security after 9/11, Terminal 5 "became obsolete," Andolino said. "As other airports were creating new and exciting experiences for travelers, our international gateway to Chicago fell behind," she said. "It failed to provide anything remotely representative of our world-class city of Chicago."
"Those days are over," she said. "O’Hare has raised the bar, and we are better positioned to compete with international gateways."
Renovation of the new Terminal 5, which began in July 2012, is expected to create an additional 230 jobs, bringing employment to 410. It’s expected to generate some $50 million in revenue per year, double the level of 2011 before the renovation began. Thirty of O’Hare's 50 airlines use the 21 gates at the terminal.
The city in 2011 awarded Westfield Concession Management, a major developer of shopping malls and airport concessions, a 25-year contract to manage concessions in Terminal 5.
Westfield, in turn, contracted with partners, such as Areas USA, which subleases the dining concessions and employs the restaurant workers. Areas, which operates in 10 U.S. airports and more than 100 worldwide, invested about $10 million of the $26 million Terminal 5 renovation, said Eduardo Uribe, vice president of business development for Areas.
The goal was to bring in restaurants with a Chicago flavor housed in spaces with modern, sleek designs, Uribe said.
"Airports worldwide are tired of these cookie-cutter franchises," Uribe said. "They’re really trying to bring the best of their cities to the airports, because the airports are the windows on the city. It’s the first thing and the last thing tourists see.
"And in Chicago it makes more sense than anywhere else because of the culinary options."
Among the restaurants Areas recruited was Tocco, which has only one other location, in Wicker Park. Tocco owner and chef Bruno Abate on Friday was playing host and sharing with guests slices of pizza with mozzarella and arugula.
Bruno said he realizes that even as a small business owner, his location at T5 suddenly makes him a world ambassador for the city of Chicago.
He said he will be at the airport Tocco location several times a week to ensure quality.
"I care about my name. I’m a small guy. This is my baby," Abate said in a thick Italian accent. "Every time, I want my food to be perfect."
Besides the restaurants and retailers at Terminal 5, new amenities include upgraded dining areas, lighting and restrooms, along additional power outlets to recharge laptops and portable electronic devices. And renovations include a redesigned TSA checkpoint, which official say is more efficient.
More information about O’Hare’s remodeled Terminal 5 can be found online at chicagot5.com.
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