CHICAGO (CBS) — The long, controversial transformation of Northerly Island from airplane play lot for the rich and powerful to a public “urban oasis” along Lake Michigan culminated Friday with the official opening of Northerly Island Park.

The former Meigs Field airport was famously shut down–its runway shredded by bulldozers in the middle of the night–by Mayor Richard M. Daley a dozen years ago. On Friday, it was hailed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel has a “world-class urban oasis” with natural plantings, a new, large pond fed by Lake Michigan, man-made topographic enhancements and trails.

Northerly Island Park covers 43 acres on the southern end of what is actually a peninsula–connected to the Museum Campus on the North Side.

“The remarkable transformation of Northerly Island has fulfilled Daniel Burnham’s ultimate vision for the area, creating a spectacular green space in the midst of a bustling city, protecting and enhancing our lakefront for generations to come,” said Emanuel.

The mayor described the results at Northerly Island Park incredible.

“Nowhere else in the country can you be within just literally a mile of a downtown central business district that’s thriving, and have 40 acres of nature preserve,” he said.

Contractors installed more than 11,000 shrubs, 400 trees, and a mile-long 12-foot wide trail for joggers and cyclists.

The old Meigs Field runway is now a five-acre lagoon, which draws its water from a man-made opening on the southern edge of the park. Landscapers created a series of rolling hills, that provide stunning, panoramic views and a refuge of migratory birds.

The park will eventually offer camping and educational nature programs.

The transformation of Northerly Island includes the restoration of shoreline habitats, coastal wetland and other coastal plant communities and the installation of native plants and trees.

The park cost around $9.5 million, which includes $6.2 million in federal funding. The remaining costs was paid for with revenue from the FirstMerit Bank Pavilion, an outdoor concert venue on the northern end of Northerly Island.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin helped cut the ribbon on the new park, which he called an amazing escape to nature just steps from downtown Chicago.

“I can remember the old days, when this was a boutique airport for state employees like me to fly back and forth to Springfield. Those days are gone,” he said.

Architect Jeanne Gang helped design the park, using Daniel Burnham’s famed 1909 Plan of Chicago, which presented ideas for a natural lakefront accessible to everyone.

“We have that as a kind of a blueprint, as an idea, and over the years different architects and designers have taken those ideas and realized them,” Gang said.

She called the site a magnet for nature; designed to attract birds, fish, and other wildlife.

Northerly Island was envisioned in the 1909 Plan for Chicago by Daniel Burnham, as one of the northernmost points in an archipelago of manmade islands along the lakefront. But none of the others were ever created.

The peninsula was constructed in 1925, and was in the world spotlight as the site for Chicago’s 1933-34 Century of Progress Exposition.

In 1947, the single-strip Meigs Field airport opened at Northerly Island. For the next 56 years, the airport was used largely for commuter flights to and from Springfield and other nearby locales.

Meigs Field remained in operation when Mayor Richard M. Daley took office in 1989, and Daley made no secret of his desire to close it and turn it into a park.

Daley did close the airport and had Xs painted on the runway on Sept. 30, 1996, sparking a fight with then-Gov. Jim Edgar and the city’s business community who wanted to keep it open.

In January 1997, Daley and Edgar struck a deal to reopen Meigs Field and keep it open for five years.

But much to Chicagoans’ surprise, on March 31, 2003, Daley closed the airport again — and this time, the X’s weren’t merely painted. Private bulldozer crews tore giant X’s into the runway in the dead of night.

At the time, which was only about a year and a half after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Mayor Daley said the threat of terrorism from the presence of a lakefront airport was enough of a reason to close it. But the move drew widespread fury, particularly from the owners of 16 planes that wound up stranded at the airport.

The Federal Aviation Administration fined the city $33,000 for the move.

But Mayor Daley has always defended the decision. In a 2009 interview with former CBS 2 Political Editor Mike Flannery, Daley said the airport was a “losing proposition.”