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3/27/05 Crain's Editorial

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From Crain's Chicago Business, 3/28/05:
 

Daley's Meigs closure doesn't pass test of time

Editorial, March 28, 2005

Two years ago this week, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley showed everyone who was boss by ordering a middle-of-the-night demolition of Meigs Field, bulldozing huge X marks into the airfield's once-active runway.

The decision to close Meigs was a bad one. Though tiny, it played a vital role in the city's commercial infrastructure, mainly serving as a close-in landing spot for business aircraft shuttling executives to and from Chicago's central business district. The move also underscored the mayor's ham-handed approach to ending the debate over whether to keep the airport open or to convert its home, Northerly Island, into a park. (Who needs public discourse when you have bulldozers?)

As bad as the decision was to close Meigs, what's worse is what has transpired on Northerly Island since then: virtually nothing. The blacktop has been removed, a walking path has been added and a few new birds call Northerly Island (rather than another strip of lakefront) home. Aside from that, the area has all the charm of, well, a closed airstrip.


Meigs Field in March 2003 (left) and March 2005. Photos: Precision Aerial Photo

That's because Mayor Daley impulsively closed Meigs without the money to pay for anything of substance on Northerly Island. It's a lose-lose dynamic for Chicago. No airport and no real park.

If nothing else, on this second anniversary of Meigs' closing, Mayor Daley owes taxpayers a blueprint for Northerly Island complete with a timetable and funding plans.

With the city strapped for cash, the Chicago Park District last week considered a plan to turn over part of Northerly Island to a concert promoter who would run an outdoor music series there. Fees from the promoter supposedly would be used to fund park improvements. We can't help but be skeptical based on the experience of Mayor Daley's last budget-busting project, Millennium Park. Parking garage revenues that were supposed to cover debt service on bonds used to fund that attraction have come up short.

Without a clear plan, and a clear funding source, Northerly Island risks becoming the Block 37 of the lakefront. Mayor Daley needs to show the same resolve he used in closing Meigs Field to redevelop it.

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