December 2, 2004
Friends of Meigs Dominate Contentious Park Meeting
Airport supporters call for mixed-use park, airstrip for Northerly Island
Friends of Meigs ask for calm from supporters, demand changes in “planning process”
Portage Park, Chicago, IL – A strong turnout of Meigs Field
supporters tonight dominated the second Chicago Park District meeting to
determine the fate of the demolished airport. The majority of the group of about
35 people appeared to be supporters of Meigs Field. Many of the rest said they
had no objection to returning the important reliever airstrip to Chicago’s
“I’m here to express support for the airport,” said one attendee, “the way it was.”
“I’m here because I’d like to explore a mixed-use vision for the island, with fishing, and sailing and aviation,” said Josh Levy, “And I’d like everyone to know about how the Park District can receive up to $100 million dollars for parks across the city by reopening Meigs Field.”
“My daughter flew into Meigs Field in 1966 for the first time, in her own plane,” said Ann, another Meigs supporter.
Most non-Meigs supporters present at the meeting had specific issues they were concerned with, many of which are compatible with an airport. “I don’t mind if the airport is put back,” said one fisherman. “As long as we have access to the water on both sides of the peninsula.”
The Friends of Meigs’ proposal, “Parks and Planes: A Vision for Northerly Island and Meigs Field” includes opening up areas on both the eastern and western shores of the peninsula for fishing, strolling, and other waterside activities.
The meeting started to turn contentious when Christopher Gent, the Deputy Director of Planning for the Park District introduced the “visioning” exercise, in which participants were given green (“like”) and yellow (“dislike”) stickers to apply to a collage of photos of possible park elements under consideration.
“Are there examples of mixed-use parks and airports?” asked one attendee. When informed that there were not, several others in attendance expressed anger and disgust.
“This is rigged,” shouted one Meigs supporter. “The fix is in,” said another.
As the group broke up for the exercise, Friends of Meigs
leaders called supporters aside to ask for calm and cooperation. “We have asked
them for changes in their planning process,” said Steve Whitney, president of
the Friends of Meigs Field. “Yes, the process is unfair. But tonight, try to
work within the rules. Put your stickers on things that are at least compatible
with an airport.”
The Friends of Meigs Field, concerned that the process being used by the Park District is biased and apparently intended to reach a predetermined conclusion, have asked for changes in the process.
“There have been no public hearings to close Meigs Field,” said Whitney. “Moreover, they are excluding consideration of any of our concepts. If they want a legitimate process, changes need to be made.”
The Friends of Meigs Field have asked for 5 changes in the process:
1) The establishment of public hearings before the Park District Board of Commissioners on the question of whether Northerly Island should incorporate an operating airstrip. The only hearings on the closure of Meigs since it re-opened in 1997 were held in 2001 before Gov. Ryan and resulted in an agreement to preserve the airport until 2026. No public hearings have been held since.
2) Either elimination of the “visioning” exercise during park planning meetings, or inclusion of elements of a mixed-use park/airport in the images available for stickering.
3) Inclusion of ALL proposals for Northerly Island in public materials on display at the planning meetings, including not only the Parks and Planes proposal, but those by such groups as the Lake Michigan Federation, the Baird real estate group, the University of Purdue, the Chicago Maritime Historical Society, and the Migratory Bird Watch. At the first planning meeting several of these were on display, but were forced to be taken down when the Friends of Meigs requested that their proposal get equal space. At the second meeting, only one proposal by the Park District was on display.
4) A commitment to cease factually incorrect, derisive and disrespectful statements by Park District officials, and to correct the record when factually incorrect statements are made. For example, the Park District, has claimed that there are no examples of compatibly co-existing airports and parks. In fact, there are hundreds of airports in the U.S. alone that happily co-exist with park, recreational and nature facilities adjacent. The Park District has also resorted to name-calling against airport users and supporters, even in official news releases.
5) An opportunity to present the Parks and Planes proposal directly to both Park Superintendent Timothy Mitchell and Chicago Mayor Richard Daley.
The Parks and Planes proposal, developed by the Friends of Meigs Field, is a concept for an exciting park/airstrip/air museum complex for Northerly Island that would be paid for from federal aviation funds, and could yield up to $100 million or more in excess funds to assist cash-strapped parks elsewhere across the city.
Truly a win-win proposal, the plan envisions two phases, the first rebuilding a compact airstrip on a portion of the peninsula, while also freeing 18-25 acres for new parkland around the perimeter. The longer-term vision could expand the peninsula, creating even more parkland than is available on the entire existing peninsula, along with an improved, safer, quieter airport. Such a concept is being used today to expand the similar lakefront airport in Cleveland, OH (Burke Lakefront Airport.)
The proposal is flexible, and can incorporate—not to mention pay for—nearly all of the concepts being put forward by other organizations, including a maritime museum, enhanced fishing facilities, a hospital for migratory birds, nature areas, and disabled sailing facilities.
Details of the proposal are available online at www.meigsaction.net
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