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11/14/04 Park planning meeting #1

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Park District starts "planning process" for Meigs, hides airport ideas

Friends of Meigs outnumber all other groups

Chicago, IL -- On Saturday, November 13, the Chicago Park District finally began planning the park it wants to replace Meigs Field, over a year and a half after the airport's illegal midnight destruction.

In what will be the first of seven public "visioning" sessions, the Park District sought public input on the elements of the park that would replace the famed downtown airport.  Friends of Meigs supporters were the largest single bloc of attendees, outnumbering all other groups represented at the meeting, with over 20 of the 60 or so attendees members or supporters of the Friends of Meigs Field. 

"It was gratifying to see the turnout," said Steve Whitney, president of the Friends of Meigs Field.  "If the Park District really cares about the public's input, their eyes were opened on Saturday."  The Friends of Meigs presented over 13,000 electronic petition signatures, and over 650 well-written letters of support for the Parks and Planes plan.  The plan would include an operating airstrip as one feature in a mixed-use park/airport/air museum attraction for all Chicagoans.

Planning director Arnold Randall tried to maintain a fair appearance in his comments, saying that no idea would be rejected in advance, but actions and statements by the Park District tended to cast doubt on the good faith of the process. 

Airport Ideas Shut Out

At one point, Park District representatives demanded that sketches of the Parks and Planes plan be removed from display.  When questioned why they were being singled out over other groups' proposals (such as those by the Lake Michigan Federation, Purdue University students, and the Baird real estate firm), the Park District decided to pull those presentations from display as well.

"It's as if they don't want people to know all the facts and possibilities," said Whitney.  "Why are they trying to hide ideas from the public?" 

Demanding Process Changes

The Friends of Meigs Field have officially requested that the Park District modify its planning process to be more fair.

One example:  In one exercise, the Park District gives green ("like") and yellow ("dislike") stickers to the attendees and asks them to place them on various photos of park elements from parks elsewhere.  This process is meant to get feedback on the types of elements people  would prefer to see.  However, it has two significant flaws:

  1. There are NO photos of elements of a combination park/airport/air museum like that proposed in the Parks and Planes plan.  Therefore, Meigs supporters are forced to allocate their stickers among other features and activities that are or are not compatible with airport activities.
  2. The results are completely ambiguous and subject to whatever interpretation the Park District wants to put on them.  For instance, one photo that showed a stand of tall trees got a large number of yellow stickers, many from Meigs supporters who realize that lower landscape features would be more compatible with an airport.  Instead, Mr. Randall publicly expressed confusion over the results, guessing that "maybe people don't like that there's a tree in the middle of this path, here."  

    In another example, one photo of a beach drew a lot of green dots, which caused another Park District employee to comment on how many people supported extending the 12th Street Beach the length of the peninsula.  In fact, many of the green dots were there because the existing 12th Street Beach has co-existed with Meigs Field for over 55 years and would be a very compatible use.

In the interim, until it is clear that the Park District is not truly seeking the public's opinions and input, the Friends of Meigs Field encourage its members and other Meigs supporters to take part in the process in good faith.

Press Coverage

The Chicago press turned out to cover the event, including the Chicago Tribune, ABC-7 News, WGN-9 News, CLTV News and CBS-2 News.  Coverage was balanced, but statements by Park District officials tended to indicate that an airstrip was not to be seriously considered.  According to the Chicago Tribune, '"There are no parks where airstrips are a compatible use," said Arnold Randall, the district director of planning and development who led the brainstorming session.'

The text of the entire Chicago Tribune article appears below:

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Chicago Tribune, 11/14/04:

Brainstorming begins on Meigs ; Group again touts proposal to include airstrip with park;

[Chicago Final Edition] Hal Dardick, Tribune staff reporter.
Chicago Tribune. Chicago, Ill.: Nov 14, 2004. pg. 4

The Chicago Park District Saturday found a use for the former Meigs Field terminal building--as the spot to launch sessions on developing Northerly Island.

More than 60 people discussed their ideas for a showcase lakefront park on the site where Mayor Richard Daley orchestrated the destruction of Meigs' general aviation runway in March 2003.

Daley and district officials envision a nature park. Nevertheless, Friends of Meigs Field again touted its Parks and Planes proposal, combining a new Meigs Field and aviation museum with a nature park.

"They say they are trying to reach out for the input of the citizens of Chicago," said Steve Whitney, president of the group. "We are going to try to work with them to see if they are acting in good faith."

The combination airport and park could be built with federal airport funds and generate a $100 million windfall the district could use elsewhere, Whitney said.

Timothy Mitchell, general superintendent for the district, was cool to the idea. "I am general superintendent of the Park District, and I am interested in a park at Northerly Island," he said.

"There are no parks where airstrips are a compatible use," said Arnold Randall, the district director of planning and development who led the brainstorming session. "Typically, park spaces are places you can go and escape from urban life and noises."

Saturday's session was the first of seven to be held across the city.

The district then will put together concepts to present at a second set of public forums. Final plans will be implemented in stages over several years.

The city used $1.49 million in federal grants and airline passenger tax revenue to rip out Meigs' runway, restore the land and plant wildflowers and trees. Northerly Island, actually a 78-acre peninsula, opened to the public in July.

Part of the peninsula will be used next year for family oriented concerts and plays to generate $800,000 for operations and planning. The former terminal will become a visitor's center in March.

At Saturday's session, participants indicated a strong preference for fishing piers, terraced ponds and native plantings over sports fields and highly landscaped gardens.

Robbie Hunsinger, founder and coordinator of the Chicago Bird Collision Monitors program that each spring and fall rescues hundreds of migrating birds that crash into lakefront buildings, suggested a bird nature and rehabilitation center.


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