O'HARE — Before a $26 million renovation of O'Hare Airport's International Terminal, passengers waiting for a flight or killing time during a layover couldn't get so much as a cup of coffee once they passed the security checkpoint.
But now, two dozen new shops and restaurants offer fliers practically anything their heart — or stomach — desires, and will ensure international travelers' first impression of Chicago is no longer a "disappointment" or an "embarrassment."
"Now when travelers land in a world-class city, they will get a world-class welcome," said Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who was joined Friday by U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) to celebrate the rehabilitated terminal.
Durbin called the overhaul and the concessions operated by shopping center developer Westfield "spectacular" and said he was thrilled that travelers' first impression of Chicago will no longer be marked by "disappointment and frustration."
"More tourism means more visitors means more jobs means more business," Durbin said. "That's a winning combination."
The renovation of the 21-year-old international terminal — also known as Terminal Five — is part of Emanuel's plan to increase the number of annual visitors to O'Hare to 55 million by 2020, officials said.
"It is a big goal," Emanuel said, but one that ensures the city continues to grow and create good-paying jobs for residents, he added.
Aviation Department Commissioner Rosemarie Andolino said the terminal had become "obsolete" and had allowed O'Hare to "fall behind other airports."
The terminal, which now resembles an upscale mall with adjacent departure and arrival gates, includes O'Hare's first airport spa, offering massages as well as manicures, as well as a 10,000-square-foot duty-free shop featuring fragrances and cosmetics.
"We were fighting way below our weight class," Emanuel said.
Connoisseurs of fine clothing will be able to pick up some new togs at Michael Kors and Emporio Armani, which will soon open near Italian leather goods store Salvatorre Ferragamo.
In addition to 180 construction jobs, the new shops and stores created 184 permanent jobs, doubling the number of positions in the terminal along with the amount of retail space. Another 46 jobs are expected to be created once the work is completely finished and all stores are open.
Nearly half of the new stores and restaurants are based in Chicago, including a new location for famed celebrity chef Rick Bayless' Tortas Frontera.
The renovation also is expected to boost sales at the airport. In 2013, with the work half finished, Westfield recorded $32 million in sales, the best year ever, officials said.
Westfield is on target to reach $50 million in annual sales, which would double sales recorded in the last year before the rehabilitation began.
In 2011, Westfield won the right to operate the shops and restaurants in the international terminal for 25 years in return for $5.1 million annually in rent, based on passenger projections, and for footing the bill for the $26 million rehabilitation project unveiled Friday.
Three aldermen — including Ald. John Arena (45th) who was on hand for the celebration — voted against the deal with Westfield, saying other companies that bid for the contract would have generated 20 percent to 50 percent more revenue for the city.
The Westfield Group operates concessions at seven other airports, including John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City and Los Angeles International Airport.