Reporting Bob Roberts
CHICAGO (WBBM) - Chicago Park District planners said they worked for three years on a plan that assures that Northerly Island won’t host planes again.
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“The only things that will be landing and taking off with two wings in the future are going to be birds, butterflies and some various other insects,” said the Grant Park Conservancy’s Bob O’Neill last week, to the applause of many of those who attended the plan’s unveiling.
But ironically, supporters of Meigs Field–and they still exist as an organized group–say the Park District’s framework plan steals liberally from their vision of a reopened airport.
It was in 2003, in the dead of night, that Mayor Daley’s bulldozers moved in by surprise and destroyed the old Meigs Field airport runway on Northerly Island.
Northerly Island actually is not an island but a 91-acre peninsula that juts into Lake Michigan just south of the Adler Planetarium and east of Soldier Field.
“Much of their plan looks like it was cribbed from our plan, which we gave them,” said former Friends of Meigs Field President Rachel Goodstein.
A glance at the Friends of Meigs’ 2004 “Parks and Planes” proposal shows several surprising similarities. Among them are the barrier reef and lagoon off of Northerly Island’s eastern shore; underground parking, topped by park land, at the north end of the island; a network of promenades and trails, and perhaps most important in the age of cash-strapped local government, financing by someone other than Chicago taxpayers.
In the case of the Parks and Planes plan, the financing source would be the Federal Aviation Administration, which the Friends of Meigs were counting on to pay 90 percent of the cost of reconstruction, which the Park District estimated in 2004 at $700 million.
Of course, Goodstein said, the Friends’ plan would all be built around an operating airport.
There are other significant differences, as well. The Friends’ plan called for a “living” air museum in the Meigs terminal, a “Plane of the Month” pavilion, an aircraft restoration annex and a sailing school, instead of shops and restaurants, along the northwest edge of the island.
With the runway as the major feature, the Friends’ plan does not include an amphitheater, using that area as park space, and the layout of trails would differ greatly, although in both plans they would run the length of the island.
Chicago Park District Planning Director Gia Biagi and architect Jeanne Gang both said that they reviewed “hundreds” of plans and ideas that others had put forward in preparing the framework plan unveiled Thursday.
Goodstein calls the unveiling of a framework plan now “premature.”
“We’re going to have a new administration, so I think it’s not the right time to be making real decisions about what to do,” she said.
Goodstein wants to know where the top-tier mayoral candidates stand. State Sen. Rickey Hendon (D-Chicago) declined to run for mayor after saying that if he were elected, reopening Meigs would be a priority.
Frequent candidate William “Dock” Walls has long been a supporter of Meigs’ rebirth.