Ten years ago today Chicago's lakefront underrwent a major transformation in an overnight raid.

Charter One Pavilion would be replaced by a permanent amphitheater with as many as 14,000 seats nestled into the landscape. Cars would be hidden in an underground parking garage, and a pedestrian bridge at Burnham Harbor would offer an entry for people on foot and on bicycles.

The old Meigs Field terminal building would be stripped down to its architectural pillars and used as an open-air pavilion, while a separate structure would be built nearby to house the nature center and bird hospital. A harbor walk along the site's western edge would offer a landing place for visitors to buy food, rent equipment and use facilities.

The southern end would be transformed into a series of interconnected ecosystems: wetland, prairie, savanna and woodland. A pond would be constructed and equipped with underwater cameras to monitor the growth of a mudpuppy habitat.

An artificial reef along the eastern edge would shield the shoreline from rough waves. And sunken ships would offer attractions along an underwater trail.

Completing the plan will likely take many years and cost tens of millions of dollars. The Park District doesn't even have a ballpark estimate of the total cost, Biagi said. 

But the Army Corps of Engineers will break ground on the wilderness portion of the project in the coming weeks, officials said.

"This is a plan that inherits 100 years worth of thinking, and we're actually building it this year," Biagi said. "It's amazing, as a civic achievement, in a town where we do care about planning."

The corps will pay $5 million of the $7.7 million cost of building the ecosystems on the southern portion of the site. The Park District will provide the rest from funds saved from concert proceeds.

Construction is expected to take about a year, and the corps will maintain the nature preserve for five years, Biagi said.

Also under way is a renovation of Charter One Pavilion. The lakefront concert venue will expand from nearly 5 acres to nearly 7 acres, with an additional 6 acres of lawn area, officials said. An additional 600 fixed seats will be added to the existing 8,000, and 22,000 lawn seats will bring the venue's total capacity to more than 30,000, officials said. Live Nation, the entertainment company that puts on the concerts, will pay the $3 million cost of the renovation. The new setup will be used for shows this summer.

Park advocates said that while the process has been slow, the peninsula is poised to become a leading example of urban green space design.

"I think that we're lucky we're doing it now," said Bob O'Neill, president of the Grant Park Conservancy. "If you look back, people just used to throw in some grass and a park bench and a few trees. It's all much more sophisticated now, so it's a better time to be doing this."

Old resentments about the way the airport was closed have withered as time has passed, O'Neill said.

"It used to be I'd talk about it and people would talk about the way it was closed," O'Neill said. "Now, they don't even bring that up. Time can really heal, and that's what's happened. Now there's far more support going forward."


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