Midway expansion ready to take off

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

Recently announced plans for a $248 million expansion of Midway International Airport will mean speedier trips through the security lines, and a wider choice of concessions for local travelers using the airport on Chicago’s Southwest Side.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced the wide-ranging plans last Thursday, explaining that the project will take several years to complete. This is the largest investment made in the airport in nearly 10 years, The mayor said the project will include an expansion of the concession facilities, the terminal parking garage, and security checkpoints, addressing several concerns commonly raised by travelers. 

            “Midway is more than an airport. It is an important economic engine for the city of Chicago so with this modernization we are making an essential investment in the future of Midway but also the future of Chicago. This modernization allows and ensures that Midway will remain a world-class airport in a world-class city,” said the mayor at the airport.  “These enhancements will create jobs for Chicago’s residents, provide an improved experience for travelers from the garage to the gate, and ensure that our world-class city has two world-class airports.”

            According to city officials, Midway generates approximately $7 billion in economic activity each year and 90,000 jobs for the region. Southwest Airlines is the biggest carrier at Midway, which serves 75 airports, including eight international locations. It is considered to be one of the fastest growing airports in the United States. 

            The project, which will not expected to be completed until 2019, is slated to begin with the city issuing a request for proposal for a single-entity concessions operator in September. Studies have found that travelers passing through Midway spend less on concessions than at other airports, and the stated aim of the improvements is to “enhance the experience for travelers, create good-paying jobs for residents and help achieve higher Airport Concessions Disadvantaged Business Enterprise participation goals.”

Following the issue of the RFP, bids would be received through mid-December, and evaluated in the first quarter of 2016. Then, if all goes according to plan, the proposal would be brought before the City Council in the second quarter of  2016.

            Plans call for renovations to be made to concessions areas, stores, and restaurants, and shopping, dining, lounge facilities, spa services, and medical services will be added. Officials said the added 20,000 sq, ft, of concession space will feature iconic Chicago brands and concepts while providing opportunities for local businesses and residents.

Expanding Midway’s security checkpoint area, with the creation of a new 80,000 sq. ft. security hall, is expected to resolve the bottleneck that frequently occurs in the current security area, frustrating travelers. Plans are also in the works to widen the existing 60-pedestrian bridge over Cicero Avenue from 60 feet to 300 feet, which is also inclined to get congested. 

“This is all about improving the customer experience at Midway. It is a lot more than adding concessions,” said Owen Kilmer, Chicago Department of Aviation deputy commissioner for communications. He said the airport authorities will be working the Transportation Safety Administration to coordinate the improvements to the security area.

            As for the terminal parking garage expansion, which Kilmer said is in the design phase, four levels and 1,400 parking spaces are expected to be added to the terminal garage. The added parking spaces are meant to —making it easier for travelers to get in and out of the airport. 

“Obviously, we will not do anything to infringe on flight paths,” said Kilmer, when asked about the feasibility of height being added to the parking garage.

“It is still in the design phase, but levels can be added horizontally. That is most likely how it will happen,” he said, explaining that the parking garage will be built out rather than up.

Emanuel said at the press conference that the expansion project is expected to create 1,000 construction and 700 permanent concession jobs, as well as a 50 percent increase in concession space. Revenue generated by concessions is expected to double by 2019.

“Our proposal will make Midway Airport more efficient and more customer friendly for years to come,” Aviation Commissioner Ginger S. Evans said, whom Kilmer said realized the need for improvements as soon as she was named commissioner in May. “In order for our airports, and our city, to thrive we need to remain competitive—and that’s what this plan will achieve,” she said.