On the first Saturday in February, despite record warmth, only two bicyclists and a Chicago police car took to the sloshy paths at what used to be Meigs Field. The former GA airport has been reincarnated as Northerly Island, a wildlife grounds. The former terminal houses exhibits on flowers, birds and a poster of Northerly from 1931. There is no mention, inside or out, that an airport occupied the site.
“I guess they’re not ready for that yet,” laughed Jane Schenck, a Chicago Park District employee watching for visitors.
The advocacy group Friends of Meigs Field fought tirelessly to protect the airport until Mayor Richard Daley gouged the airport into submission in 2003 when he had bulldozers carve up the runway one Sunday night. The group is now largely inactive, though it presents a vision for Northerly Island to include “the Chicago Air Museum.”
In December, when a downtown high-rise caught fire, the group argued that helicopter response would have been more efficient from Meigs than from Midway.
In January, Chicago Alderman Joe Moore (49th district) voiced his support for a modest aviation museum, though more profitable ideas include a casino, restaurants and staging area for a new music festival. The Chicago Park District will hold public hearings through this month.
The FAA is still investigating whether Mayor Daley’s overnight destruction of Meigs, paid for with federal airport development funds, should warrant fines as high as $8.7 million.
Local allegations have since surfaced that the land has become prime cover for city contractors–supporters of Mayor Daley–to divert funds for other projects, including using loads of asphalt purchased for Meigs’ conversion to parkland for unrelated construction.
For Chicago residents, the fate of Meigs underscores the city’s impatience with democratic consensus. Cook County Hospital has been compared to Meigs in that it can’t operate without subsidy–or maybe it can, depending who you ask. Plans range, and rage, from private development to historic preservation. City commissioner Jerry Butler offered one solution to the The Daily Southtown.
“I’d get a bulldozer and at 11:30 at night, I’d go in there and knock it down,” said Butler.
The Lansing, Mich., Municipal Airport is lobbying for convention traffic that used to land at Meigs, such as that pending for the 100th meeting of the Rotary International in June. Lansing has developed new facilities and ground connections, though it expects only 50 fly-ins.