Emanuel: Meigs gone, Northerly Island park is 'right thing to do'
Mayor Rahm Emanuel announces plans for Northerly Island Park on Thursday at the Field Museum. (Brian Cassella, Chicago Tribune / August 16, 2012)
The new mayor hedged a bit and pointed out what’s done is done when asked whether Daley was right to order backhoes to cut X’s into the runway under the cover of darkness in 2003.
But Emanuel touted a just-unveiled Northerly Island camping program for inner city kids as an example of why ultimately it was an appropriate move.
“It is right, yes, on this level, this way: Meigs Field is no longer here. Northerly Island will be part of the city in a way that everybody can experience,” Emanuel said. “And the plan that was developed for this was the right thing to do, and now we’re realizing that plan. I’ll leave it to others to make all that judgment. I think it was the right thing to do, and we now have Northerly Island going to be integrated into the life of the city, in the communities and neighborhoods.”
Daley’s unilateral decision to render the airport unusable was seen by critics at the time as an illustration of his tendency to run roughshod over opposition.
Chicagoans awoke one morning in March 2003 to discover city crews had torn up the airstrip, which was used mostly by recreational fliers and business executives coming downtown for meetings from outside Chicago.
Daley was unapologetic about shutting down Meigs, saying he acted to protect the city from terrorist attacks using small planes launched from the airport.
Daley’s wife, Maggie Daley, also was a vocal and influential proponent of turning the peninsula south of the Adler Planetarium into a nature preserve, and the mayor pursued that vision during his remaining years in office.
With Chicago Park District Superintendent Michael Kelly and a representative of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on hand Thursday, Emanuel talked at the Field Museum about the next steps in the evolution.
In the short term, camping permits will be increased by 900 per year starting next year, which the mayor said will give more children in some of Chicago’s hard-scrabble neighborhoods a chance to experience nature.
A pond and a savanna area will also be developed on the 91-acre peninsula.
The $4.3 million price tag will be split between a $2.8 million federal grant and $1.5 million from the Park District.
Longer-term ideas include a sunken ship near Northerly Island for scuba divers and a permanent concert venue on the island.
Emanuel said Thursday he didn’t have costs for that work, but wanted Chicagoans to be able to enjoy the camping and nature as soon as possible.
“The other parts of the project, you know are very big and expensive. I made a decision we had to get started,” Emanuel said.