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Could Meigs Field make a comeback?

Longshot mayoral candidate supports reopening the Chicago airport

It’s alive! Or at least it might be, should Chicagoans elect mayoral candidate Willie Wilson in the city’s upcoming 2019 election. Reopening one of the most iconic general aviation airports in the country, formerly known as Meigs Field, is on the businessman’s 10-point agenda.

Photo by Mike Fizer

As a 40-acre nature reserve and concert venue, the once roaring airfield has been pushing up daisies for nearly 15 years. Flashback to 2003, in what AOPA called a “reprehensible action,” then-Mayor Richard Daley closed the airport overnight by sending a demolition crew to bulldoze six large X’s in the airport’s single runway, making it unusable and stranding the 16 GA aircraft parked on the ramp. The devious move caught the FAA, Meigs control tower, elected officials, and pilots across the United States by surprise, and set a scary precedent for the future of other GA airports.

In the years following the closing, the city spent $9.7 million to turn the space into a concert venue and nature preserve, though economically it was more profitable as an airport. Today, the space only generates $55,000 to the city. When it was opened as an airport, it contributed between $300 million and $500 million income per year. And that’s something Wilson has said he believes would benefit Chicago.

“The citizens didn’t close the airport. It was Mayor Daley who closed it overnight. The citizens didn’t even know it was gonna be closed,” Wilson said. “The park is just sitting there… We’ve got a lot of parks in Chicago. If you reopen the airport, you’ll bring in revenue.”

Construction crews dug X-shaped trenches in the runway at Meigs Field in 2003. Photo by Mike Fizer.

In a December interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, Wilson implied that the restoration of Meigs Field would benefit emerging types of personal air travel and bring in a much-needed revenue source for Chicago.

“Now, when there is a race to produce new types of flying transportation called ‘V-TOL’s’ that operate like a large drone or small helicopter, already in use in some places and the explosion of small jet aircraft travel, including ‘shared ride’ services, this airport could be exactly the facility that a growing modern city needs,” Wilson said.

An ambitious plan? Sure, especially because Chicago’s mayoral race has 14 candidates eager to replace Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) in the Feb. 26 election. But this isn’t Wilson’s first stab at running for Mayor. In 2015 the businessman received almost 11 percent of the vote in the general election. He was also recently endorsed by the Chicago Young Republicans because of his “pro-business” stance.

It’s an unpredictable race, but nostalgic pilots would certainly relish the opportunity to land at Meigs Field once again.

Amelia Walsh
Communications and Research Specialist
AOPA Comms and Research Specialist Amelia Walsh joined AOPA in 2017. Named after the famous aviatrix, she's a private pilot working on her instrument rating in a Colombia 350.
Topics: Advocacy, Airport Advocacy

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