Friday, August 3, 2012

Meigs Field (finally) to become park

The remnants of Meigs Field remain in place. Photograph by Gregory Tejeda

I used to mock Detroit because of what became of Tiger Stadium.

The ballpark where the Detroit Tigers played for nearly nine decades until 1999 remained in place for another decade.

IT WASN’T UNTIL 2009 that the building finally was torn down. While there are some groups that like to go out and play ball on the old infield, Detroit still doesn’t have any official plans for what to do with the site at Michigan and Trumbull avenues.

Pretty pathetic. Except that I’m not sure Chicago is any better. Just look at the saga of Meigs Field – the air strip that for just over a half-century allowed private airplanes to land their craft within a short cab ride of downtown Chicago.

I’m not here to rehash the politics of how former Mayor Richard M. Daley wanted to shutter the air strip on Northerly Island, and finally overcame the opposition of just about everybody by having bulldozers demolish the runways during one overnight in March 2003.

We still tell jokes about the “X” shaped gouges in the runways – making it dangerous for aircraft to try landing on them.

No more need for control tower on Northerly Island. Photograph by Gregory Tejeda

BUT IF ONE happens to drive (or walk) through the area near Northerly Island, it isn’t blatantly apparent that the air strip is long gone.

The old terminal building is still in place, along with the air traffic control tower. Even though it has been just over nine years since the last aircraft left the airstrip.

I realize that part of the reason nothing was able to be developed on the site were lawsuits that were pending by groups wishing to challenge the city’s ability to shutter an airport overnight – and without getting Federal Aviation Administration permission first.

Although it has been about six years since the last of those lawsuits were resolved.

Tiger Stadium is no more, yet its remnants won't wither away

YET WE STILL sit. It’s like Meigs Field has become Chicago’s version of Tiger Stadium.

Which is why I was intrigued by a Chicago Journal report that says work on revamping Northerly Island could begin come autumn.

The newspaper reported this week that the Chicago Park District (which owns the land) and the Army Corps of Engineers have plans to turn the flat layer of grass into a varied nature preserve with various ecosystems.

Almost like we can take the airstrip desired by business interests because of its proximity to downtown Chicago and turn it into a nature preserve whose biggest benefit is its proximity to downtown.

WITHIN A SHORT cab ride of the skyscrapers, one could see what the Midwest used to be like before all the European settlers arrived just over two centuries ago.

And at only $6.65 million, it probably is one of the cheaper projects undertaken by government – particularly since the bulk of the money will come from federal grants.

This may be one of the most cost-efficient projects the Chicago Park District takes on – especially since it won’t cost them more than $1.5 million in local funds.

Of course, I realize that a project hasn’t begun until work on it actually begins. Who knows what could come up between now and September (when officials supposedly will start looking for a construction company) that could delay the project’s beginning?

EVEN ONCE WORK begins, it could take up to five years before we can seriously think of walking through the nature and assorted grasses native to our region – because officials believe it would take up to five years for the grasses to be fully grown.

There also would be one other benefit to having this project in place – it would bring an end to the talk in some quarters that the best future for Northerly Island is to develop a casino on the lakefront site.

I comprehend that a casino is going to go somewhere in Chicago. I just don’t think the gaudiness of a flashy casino needs to be so close to downtown and the lakefront.

If you need bright lights on the lakefront, go watch that giant Ferris wheel at Navy Pier!


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