November 10, 2009
Friends of Meigs Field Boycott Park District Meeting
“Public Input” Excludes Large Segment of the Public
Chicago, IL – The Friends of Meigs Field, a 6,000 member not-for-profit organization dedicated to the restoration and improvement of Chicago’s downtown airport, have announced a boycott of the Chicago Park District’s design workshop on ideas for the Meigs Field site, also known as Northerly Island.
“We’ve been through this before,” said Steve Whitney, president of the Friends of Meigs Field. “When the airport was illegally demolished in 2003, the Park District held a series of ‘design workshops’ then. Airport supporters outnumbered others by a considerable margin, but they have no real interest in what the public wants. It’s all about giving cover to what the mayor wants.”
Whitney pointed out that this will be the fourth set of plans the Park District has developed for Meigs since Mayor Daley first started his quest to close the airport in 1996. That year, the Park District held a series of private design sessions, closed to airport supporters. The result was a park design that had a hodge-podge of elements, from ice sculptures to accessible beaches. “I don’t know why every beach in the city hadn’t already been made accessible,” said Whitney. “It was as if segregating the disabled at Northerly Island justified closing Meigs.”
Then, in 2004, following the “Midnight Massacre” of Meigs in March of 2003, the Park District held another series of meetings to gather public input. Airport supporters were the largest group of attendees, but by the final meeting it was clear that the Park District didn’t truly want public input, just approval for its pre-determined ideas. “At the final meeting, we held a walk-out,” said Whitney. “Airport supporters held X’s over their mouths to symbolize having been unfairly silenced by the X’s in the runway.”
For over a year, nothing was heard. The, suddenly, it was announced that Chicago wanted to use Northerly Island to host the Olympics. “All of the previous ‘public input’ went out the window,” said Whitney. Now, with the loss of the Olympics, the Park District is once again cueing up the “public input” machine for the fourth time.
A plan with no money
The true reason there hasn’t been a decent use for the Meigs property is that there is no money to create one. The Chicago Park District is strapped for cash to maintain even neighborhood parks. City philanthropists have been tapped over and over for Mayor Daley’s pet projects, such as Millennium Park and the Olympic bid. And the economic decline has cut into tax revenues.
Friends of Meigs offer $100 million for neighborhood parks
The Friends of Meigs Field have developed an innovative proposal that would re-open an airport on the Northerly Island property, create a fun and interesting public attraction focused on the airport, and would simultaneously bring tens of millions of dollars to the Chicago Park District for use in other parks across the city.
The proposal, called “Parks and Planes”, relies on a transfer of ownership of the Meigs property from the Park District to the City of Chicago. It would still be held as public lands, owned by the citizens, but the transfer could be paid for using 90% or more FAA funds. Estimates of the amount vary, but a reasonable estimate is $120 million.
A small proportion of the funds could be used to enhance the park elements of the Meigs property, adding observation points, fishing, walking, biking, and scuba infrastructure, an aviation museum, and educational facilities.
The balance of the funds, up to $100 million or more, would be the Park District’s to spend wherever it chose. The Friends of Meigs Field would encourage at least a portion to be spent on deteriorating neighborhood parks in poor areas. The Park District’s own documents show that where new parkland is needed in Chicago is in neighborhoods, not along the lakeshore.
“This is a wonderful opportunity,” said Whitney, “everyone could benefit from this. But as long as the mayor is in office, it seems that sanity is doomed to fail.”
For more information on the Parks and Planes plan, visit www.friendsofmeigs.org
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