Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association Announces $41 Million for Chicago Parks
Win-win proposal benefits parks AND planes
Today, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association announced a bold new initiative to reopen Meigs Field while simultaneously providing tens of millions of dollars to the cash-strapped Chicago Park District.
AOPA president Phil Boyer, at a downtown Chicago news conference, announced the proposal, which would provide $41 million in Federal Aviation Administration funds to the Chicago Park District, provided Meigs Field was reopened and operated as an airport. The funds would come from the FAA's Airport Improvement Program (AIP.)
"Meigs Field is a showcase and a transportation icon of Chicago," Boyer said. "The AIP funds would not only preserve this important hub to Chicago's downtown and convention business, but it also would give the Park District some much-needed revenue to maintain and improve existing parks and services. The City and Park District just don't have the money to pay for the $30 million needed to convert Meigs Field into a park, as the Mayor has proposed. This solution makes good financial sense."
The AOPA plan calls for the Park District, the current owner of the land, to sell Meigs to the City of Chicago for $41 million, which is the fair market value of the property based on a July 2001 appraisal conducted by a nationally recognized aviation expert, according to Phil Boyer, president of the AOPA. As operator and sponsor of Meigs, the City can apply for and obtain the funds necessary to purchase Meigs through the Federal Aviation Administration's Airport Improvement Program (AIP). Additionally, the influx of capital would allow the Park District to use part of Northerly Island, where Meigs is located, to create a new park and improve others.
The Friends of Meigs Field immediately praised the proposal. "This is exactly the kind of creative, win-win thinking that should have been going on from the beginning," said group president Rachel Goodstein. "The Chicago Park District is cutting back during these lean times. Here is a way to have the airport and benefit parks across the city, too."
Goodstein, a non-pilot, drew on her personal experience in her comments. "I joined this effort not because I used Meigs regularly, but because I was familiar with the condition of parks in Chicago's poorer neighborhoods. At one park, they had no legs for their pool table. The park staff was encouraged to solicit donations from local 'businesses,' including drug dealers, to make ends meet. The idea that we should be wasting millions of park dollars to destroy a valuable transportation asset made me furious."
In the Park District's most recent operating budget, operating expenses except interest and debt payments have had to be cut back over $25 million dollars. The effect has been a struggle to make ends meet while still trying to add new parkland in neighborhoods that are underserved. (A 1996 study, the City Space Plan, shows that Meigs' neighborhood, the Near South Side, already ranks third highest in park acreage per capita, with 48 acres per thousand residents. Over half of Chicago's 77 neighborhoods, many of them poor, have less than the minimum standard of 2 open acres per thousand residents.)
The Friends of Meigs Field pledged to work with AOPA, other aviation groups, and neighborhood Chicago organizations to bring these badly needed dollars to the city's parks.
Read more on the AOPA proposal at their website: www.aopa.org
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