-- On most streets, the addition of 15 bus shelters in the middle of a Chicago winter might be welcomed.

But this street is the stretch of North Michigan Avenue known as the Magnificent Mile. It is Chicago's version of Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills and Fifth Avenue in New York, where tourists and shoppers spend billions each year at Hermes and Tiffany, Neiman-Marcus and Marshall Field's.

Merchants have complained in a letter-writing campaign to City Hall, and the shelters have been a frequent topic of letters to the editor and newspaper editorials.

"It's a boulevard that is world-renowned, and it is just too much clutter for pedestrians to comfortably walk," said Rosalie Harris, president of a neighborhood group called the Streeterville Organization of Active Residents.

While the rest of the city is getting about one shelter for every six bus stops, the Magnificent Mile got shelters for all but one of its 16 stops.

The Michigan Avenue shelters, and their illuminated advertising space, were part of a more than 2,000-shelter deal that is expected to bring the city as much as $300 million over the next 21 years. The only cost to the city is the price of electricity.

The reason the area is so prized for advertising is economics.

Russell Salzman, president of the Greater North Michigan Avenue Association, said about 20 million pedestrians visit the area each year, spending about $3.6 billion in stores and hotels.

With so much money to be made, merchants do not want to mess with success.

Salzman said the members of the association were troubled by the advertising on the shelters, especially that the ads eventually will rotate every eight seconds.

"The character of the Magnificent Mile corridor is captured in the controlled and restrained use of signage, the attention to detail in building materials and design, a great deal of investment in public space, in landscaping and in the preservation of trees," he said.

Stanley Tigerman, who is one of the city's best-known architects and worked with a company that did not win the shelter contract, scoffed at assertions that the shelters tarnish the city's jewel of a street. He said the advertising is very well done and the shelters blend into the cityscape.

"The Magnificent Mile is still absolutely magnificent," he said.

The contract with JCDecaux Chicago Inc. calls for the company to install the shelters at its own expense and share advertising revenue with the city.

In Chicago, virtually no major contract can be awarded without allegations that clout was used. This one has been no exception.

JCDecaux, which won the contract over four other bidders, was represented first by the law firm of one mayoral ally and then by the firm of another.

Some of the losing bidders complained the city's original proposal did not make clear that the Michigan Avenue sites would be available. If they had known, they said, they would have increased their bids.

Out on the street, on a frigid winter day, bus riders seemed grateful for whatever shelter they could get.

"In a perfect world, we wouldn't need them, but given Chicago's winters they're fine," said Christine Somerville, waiting for a bus on a day when the temperature barely made it to double digits.

The only complaint voiced by Matt Jaha, a Roosevelt University student, was that the unheated shelters do not offer enough protection.

Chicago's elevated train stops, by contrast, have large heat lamps. Also, the new shelters have gaps in the glass panels that let in the wind of the Windy City.

"I ride the bus to school every day," Jaha said, and under Michigan Avenue's shelters, "the lights don't keep anybody warm."