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City celebrates unveiling of Terminal 5 extension at O'Hare

Remodeled Terminal 5 opens at O'Hare International Airport
Remodeled Terminal 5 opens at O'Hare International Airport 02:14

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Years of waiting and millions of dollars later, Terminal 5 at O'Hare International Airport is finished – and officially open.

As CBS 2's Tara Molina reported Tuesday, the project created almost 4,000 jobs alone. It is a milestone for one of the busiest airports in the country – with more to come.

Crews broke ground on the terminal in 2019, using more than $1.3 billion to expand and update it.

Terminal Five expansion complete at O'Hare International Airport 01:55

"Today is a big day," said transportation expert Dr. Joe Schwieterman of DePaul University. "It really brings that terminal up to world class standards." 

The new extension of Terminal 5 is a light-filled area with 10 new gates surrounded by energy-efficient smart glass.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she can see a huge difference from when she walked through terminal five while flying in and out of Chicago.

"This is incredible. It is big, it is wide, it is bright, it is welcoming," Lightfoot said.

There are also 13 more security checkpoints, more space, more food choices, and a brand-new baggage handling system. Butcher and the Burger, Hampton Social, Bar Siena, and Sparrow Coffee are among the new dining options coming to the terminal.

Vaulted ceilings bring in natural light and offer views over the airfield toward the downtown skyline. Sustainable technology is incorporated in the design – including 40,000 square feet of high-performance glass, water efficiency measures, and Energy Star roofing.

Also coming are $3.5 million worth of public art installations – which the Mayor's office says is the city's largest single acquisition of works by Chicago artist in a full 30 years.

The first public art project will be a monumental installation called "a murmuration" by artist jina valentine. It will be set up in the Passenger-Level Concourse. Next to be mounted will be an exhibition with 17 artist commissions called "Del Otro Lado/The Other Side" in the Arrivals Hall, followed by "Immigrant Owned" – a series of large-scale lightboxes developed by photographer Jonathan Michael Castillo, the Mayor's office said.

The art installations are being mounted in partnership with the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events.

Meanwhile, the L-shaped East Concourse extension added 10 new wide-body gates for planes. Nine of the gates are or MARS (multiple aircraft ramp systems) gates, which are designed to accommodate next-generation wide-body aircraft as well as old-fashioned narrow-body aircraft.

Celebration at O'Hare with unveiling of Terminal 5 extension 00:54

"It's been a long time since we had 10 new gates added to our terminals," Schwieterman said. 

Altogether, terminal capacity was increased by 25 percent, passenger amenity space was increased by 75 percent, the existing building was expanded by 350,000 square feet, and renovations were made to 750,000 square feet worth of the existing structure.

"It projects a better image for our city," Schwieterman said.

The western wing of the terminal is already home to Delta Air Lines, which moved from Terminal 2. Delta's move also involved the development of a new and larger Delta Sky Club between gates M11 and M14. There is boarding on some flights from two gates inside the lounge.

We asked Schwieterman of DePaul University what this big airport update really means for Chicago.

"A lot of benefits for our city. Post-pandemic, particularly pleasure and leisure travel is really strong. We have Southwest that wants to grow at O'Hare. Delta finally has good space where it keeps its flights in a world-class area, clustered together. That's a long time coming," Schwieterman said. "It's going to allow for O'Hare to really see that next surge of growth."

The city has more big plans to come at O'Hare, Schwieterman said.

"It paves the way toward the next step, which would be replacing Terminal 2," he said.

The city just received federal approval in November. A spokesperson for the city said they will have more on the Terminal 2 expansion project in the coming months.

"Terminal 5 has given us a chance to try some things to grow before we get to the really massive project, which would be the replacement of Terminal 2," Schwieterman said.

But what will this update mean for Chicago's bottom line?

"Fortunately, terminal projects have a good payback," Schwieterman said. "The airlines pay pretty big dollars to have modern, good gates. We have passenger facility fees - every time you buy a ticket, you pay a surcharge to use our airports. And so while it can't be done without city support, there's is big economic payback for this."

Growth is already happening at O'Hare. There were more flights through the airport last year than in pre-pandemic 2019.

"It really is great for our city to see that we can improve our airports gradually – and today was a big step towards that," Schwieterman said.

Crews broke ground last year on a new six-story parking garage at Terminal 5. It's scheduled to open in 2024 and will double parking at the terminal.

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