Yesterday, Richard M. Daley announced the he will be stepping down as the Mayor of Chicago, a role he has maintained for 21 years, beginning in 1989. The announcement came as a large surprise to many political analysts, even though Daley's popularity has been on a decline and recent polls showed that less than half the city said they would vote for him again. There are plenty of names floating around as possibly running in the upcoming election, one of the most publicized being Rahm Emanuel. Others include Jesse Jackson, Jr, and Luis Gutierrez, both congressman who represent the State of Illinois in the nation's capital.
No matter who decides to throw their hat into the ring for Mayor of Chicago, one topic that is already trending on the internet and at airports countrywide is Meigs Field. #reopenMeigs has been working it's way up the topics on Twitter as well as comments on aviation groups from Facebook to various forums and message boards.
According to review done by the Friends of Meigs Field of various polls, Daley's popularity began it's decline following the destruction of Meigs Field, which may have given the Chicago residents a glimpse of the power that Daley had established after so many years in office.
One of the goals that eventually was brought forth for the land following the closing of Meigs was to utilize a good portion of Northerly Island, the island that Meigs Field was located on, for the 2016 Olympic Games. With the failure of the Olympic bid, no new plans have been made for a permanent use of the space. All that remains is a sparsely planted park with a path and temporary music venue, the Charter One Pavilion. The only revenue generated is from the small number of events at the Charter One Pavilion with all the other events and activities at the park being free. All revenue and economic activity that the airport had generated has not been replaced by the current layout of Northerly Island.
To reopen Meigs Airport could be a boon to the Chicago economy. Friends of Meigs provided and still supports a joint use plan that would allow Chicago to have it's lakefront park plan as well as a fully functional airport. The plan would have, and still can be, realized with no cost to local taxpayers or the City of Chicago. Funding from the FAA would establish a park, much nicer and more efficient than the current Northerly Island park, as well as bringing in much needed funds for the Chicago Park District. One estimate claims that in excess of $40 million along with an estimated millions in new revenue could go to the Chicago Park District.
General aviation traffic, both private planes and corporate aviation in the greater Chicago area, has declined dramatically as well. FAA statistics show that, since Mayor Daley's initial attempt to close Meigs in 2006, General and Corporate aviation has declined over 50% through 2008. Daley and other opponents of Meigs field stated the closing would only drive the traffic to other airports, like Gary, Chicago Executive, DuPage, and Waukegan. This was not seen as overall general and corporate aviation traffic declined even further after Meigs final closing across all the reliever and general aviation airports. Corporate aviation flight departments and corporate executives did not find it viable to utilize airports dozens of miles away from the heart of Chicago. Traffic from 2006 to 2008 declined from 20-25%.
In the same period, with all of the city's departments struggling financially, business continued to lose interest in the city with conferences and exhibitions pulling out in large numbers from McCormick place and other venues, some giving the reason as a lack of convenient aviation access to the facilities. There is still no viable helipad on site for use by corporate interests or even Coast Guard rescue crews that are needed for emergencies on the lake.
The safety of the downtown area would also be improved with the reopening of Meigs Field. Prior to the closure, Meigs Field was a towered airport falling under the FAA Class D airspace classification. Planes approaching downtown Chicago had to be in two-way radio communications with the control tower. Since the closing of the airport, downtown Chicago is now in Class E/G airspace, which allows any airplane to legally fly as close as 1,000 feet from buildings without any radio communication with air traffic control. Adding a control tower would reclassify downtown Chicago as controlled airspace.
The reopening of Meigs field could lead to the creation of many jobs that are much needed in the current economy, bring back aviation interests to the city and show that Chicago is serious about the future of aviation. With Boeing and United headquarters located just miles from Northerly Island, and other firms, like Bombardier, Cessna, Gulfstream and Lockheed Martin all having branches in the surrounding suburbs, the Chicago area should have a strong interest in the aviation industry.
The airport would bring in tax revenue from the sales of supplies, fuel as well as landing fees and other sources of income. The airports revenue, along with FAA funding would provide a much needed influx of cash to the City of Chicago, with little to no expense to the city. The jobs created, both directly and indirectly would help to improve the dreary unemployment figures that the city is currently experiencing.
Hundreds of thousands of pilots, along with organizations such as the AOPA, EAA, NBAA and countless others all support the reopening of Meigs Field. This topic should be on the agenda for any candidate considering a run to become the Mayor of Chicago.