Reviews Are Glowing & Expectations High for Terminal Renovations at O'Hare

Victoria Soukup Jensen
Published in: 

Chicago once again proved its "City of Big Shoulders" attitude with a $26 million renovation of international Terminal 5 at O'Hare International Airport (ORD). The development program doubled concession space and brought in high-end retail and dining options that showcase Chicago as a global business and tourist destination.

The two-year transformation, which was completed this spring, already appears to be paying off. The developer, Westfield, reports that concession sales reached a record $32 million ($18.99 per enplanement) last year and are set to exceed $50 million in 2015 - fully double pre-development levels.

"This redevelopment makes us more competitive," says Chicago Department of Aviation Commissioner Rosemarie S. Andolino. "The improvements in Terminal 5 will help us achieve Mayor Rahm Emanuel's goal to host 55 million visitors by 2020."

Project: Terminal Redevelopment
Location: Chicago's O'Hare Int'l Airport
Terminal: 5
Cost: $26 million
Project Duration: 2 yrs
Developer: Westfield
Additional Space Created for Concessions: About 16,000 sq. ft.
Food and Retail Concessions: 24
Redesign: Westfield Airport Design
Design Implementation: Epstein
Design/Sustainability Implementation for Hudson Group: TranSystems
Graphic Design: Thirst
Walk-Through Duty Free Shop: 8,300 sq. ft.
Owners/Operators of Terminal Food Concessions: Areas USA; Robinson Hill
2013 Concession Sales (during construction): Record $32 million - $18.99/enplanement
Projected 2015 Sales: More than $50 million

Andolino says the development reflects one of the department's core missions, which is to promote Chicago's "rich, diverse and unique character."

"Sixty-seven million passengers travel through O'Hare annually," Andolino relates. "About 50 percent of these visitors are connecting passengers who never leave the airport. This means their only experience of Chicago is at our airport. This was a tremendous opportunity to create a favorable impression of Chicago and to showcase what makes it a world-class city."

Ready for Change

Redevelopment of the international terminal was a long time coming. Since it opened in 1993, the single-concourse terminal had become physically outdated and was in desperate need of an overhaul. Even so, it served nearly 62,000 air carrier operations last year.

Before the renovation, Terminal 5 had 17 concessions; but 95% were located on the pre-security side, making it inconvenient for passengers to eat, shop or even get a cup of coffee while waiting for flights. Now, almost all of the 24 dining and retail outlets are located beyond the security checkpoints.

"Chicago Terminal 5 was attractive, in that it gave us the opportunity to unleash our resources to transform not only the retailing but really make a difference in the consumer experience and the consumer journey," says Dominic Lowe, Westfield's executive vice president. "The international traveler's average dwell is anything from two to four hours, and that can be a painful experience if there aren't good amenities to enjoy. We've improved the gateway in and out of Chicago."

The sleek terminal, which features wide, open spaces, showcases 11 Chicago brands and includes duty-free shops designed to cater to international travelers. There are also boutique shops featuring internationally known brands such as Salvatore Ferragamo, Michael Kors and Emporio Armani, operated by Dufry North America.

Dining options include both sit-down restaurants and a dining lounge with faster, more casual options for on-the-go travelers. 

Given the record enplanement spending figures during construction, Westfield's Lowe is optimistic about the development's return. "With a robust retail and dining program, we're projecting sales of $50 million - double pre-development numbers - during our first stabilized year," he notes.

Checkpoint Shift

After winning a 20-year contract to operate the terminal's concessions program in 2011, Westfield set out to overhaul the terminal's footprint, which hadn't been touched since 1993. The redesign focused on doubling concession space to 32,000 square feet, relocating the TSA checkpoint to improve passenger flow and offering first-class amenities to provide an upscale, international feel. The Westfield Airport Design team headed the program, which was implemented by Chicago-based Epstein, an architecture, planning, design and engineering firm. 

Moving the TSA checkpoint from the concourse to the terminal entrance changed the way travelers entered and experienced the terminal and essentially drove the entire redesign, explains Ziba Ghassemi, senior director at Westfield Airport Design. A two-story, semi-transparent glass wall channels travelers to the TSA checkpoint. Changes in queuing configurations and additional inspection areas have shortened security lines, reports Mark Fischer, senior vice president at Epstein.

"The end result really upgrades the appearance and the personality of the airport," Fischer notes. Materials typically found in hotels rather than airports were used in restrooms to create a warmer, more luxurious experience for travelers, he adds.

Height was used to make spaces feel larger throughout the project - from the glass entrance wall to the two-story dining lounge and in each individual retail establishment, Ziba notes. High-end finish materials and furniture give the terminal an upscale appearance while little touches add a bit of luxury, she adds. Large, graphic art installations on glass walls in the terminal entry, restrooms and dining area highlight Chicago's commitment in public art.

Renovations were executed incrementally to minimize disruption to traffic, and all 21 of the terminal's gates remained open during the work. Thanks to deliberate phasing, concessions options actually increased during the project, Lowe notes.

"We built incremental concession space before we took down existing space, so there were actually more spaces, products and services throughout the construction than there were before we started the work," he explains. 

Hudson Group hired TranSystems to help ensure that its Terminal 5 retail stores met Westfield's design criteria and adhered to the city of Chicago's Sustainable Airport Manual. TranSystems used a mix of fluorescent and LED lighting to reduce energy consumption and environmentally conscious building materials such as recycled glass tile to boost sustainability of the renovations.

"By using durable materials for our flooring and countertops, we maximized the materials' useful life and reduced maintenance and replacement costs," explains Rosi Rawson, master professional/architect and vice president at TranSystems. "We sourced local stones where possible and are dedicated to reducing pollution by using non-toxic paints and adhesives."

New Flow for Duty-Free

The recently redesigned terminal features a walk-through duty-free shop - the first of its kind at a U.S. airport. When travelers clear security, they find themselves inside a modern 8,300-square-foot store, with flight information display system screens to keep them updated about their flights while they shop.

Dufry North America operates the large walk-through duty-free shop, while Hudson Group operates its namesake news/travel convenience retail stores. Both companies report to Joe DiDomizio, president/chief executive officer of Hudson Group.

"When customers are actually walking through your store, they are much closer to the merchandise, promotional materials, product displays and special values areas, and therefore far more compelled to stop and shop than if they were merely walking past your store," says DiDomizio. "Customers in a walk-through setting are also available to beauty consultants and sales associates, who are trained to engage them to sample fragrance, cosmetics, alcohol and confectionery products."

Although the concept is new for a U.S. airport, it's very prevalent in northern Europe and Asia, says Lowe.

Adjacent to the large walk-through store are four duty-free boutiques with separate storefronts: Luxury Watches, Salvatore Ferragamo, Michael Kors and Emporio Armani. A second, smaller duty-free shop is also located in the concourse, bringing the terminal's total duty-free area to 10,000 square feet- all operated by Dufry. 

After passengers flow through the duty-free shop, they are presented with additional retail options plus food/beverage concessions. "It ensures the consumer gets to experience everything before they get to the gates," Lowe explains.

Passengers can also relax in common areas equipped with charging stations for electronic devices. "It is very easy to suggest that this was all about adding shops, services, food and amenities; but passengers need time and space for themselves," he notes. "They need areas where they can relax, make choices, do a little work, hang out, be calm; or areas where they can socialize, eat or shop. Creating incremental space that isn't just relying on concessions is a critical part."

Showcasing Local Brands

Terminal 5 now has nine dining options, all featuring local brands and local chefs. Eateries include Big Bowl; R.J. Grunts Burger & Fries; Tocco; Kofe Powered by Intelligentsia; The Goddess and Grocer; and Rick Bayless' Tortas Frontera.

Local brands are also featured in the terminal's retail lineup. Chicago merchants Vosges Haut-Chocolat and I Love Chicago are expected to be popular with international travelers.

Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises (LEYE), a highly acclaimed Chicago restaurant group, surprised some by licensing its concepts to terminal concession operators. "Lettuce is a huge part of the Chicago community," explains Kevin Reynolds, partner in LEYE-Airport Concepts. "Moving into T5 has allowed us to showcase our brands."

Dee Robinson, of Robinson Hill, notes that featuring local brands at ORD reflects a national trend. Robinson Hill and Areas USA oversee, own and operate the food concessions in Terminal 5.

"Sometimes, an airport is the first and only glimpse travelers get of a cuisine that a city has to offer," says Robinson. "The hope is that as we showcase them in the airports, these culinary gems promote the city and the quality of food we have here."

Eduardo Uribe Mesta, vice president of business development for Areas USA, encourages airports considering similar redevelopments to take note of traveler demographics when determining their mix of local and national brands. "People need to have different options, and the airports need to understand their customers to determine the right percentage of local versus national," says Mesta. "It's different for every city and every airport."

In Chicago, Andolino expects recent renovations at ORD to provide international travelers with a world-class experience that is fitting of a world-class city. "The CDA (Chicago Department of Aviation) wants all travelers at Terminal 5 - whether they're about to begin a trip abroad or are here for a visit - to know that they're in Chicago."


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