Building Homes on Meigs Field

By Robert Mark on September 27th, 2007

I gave a talk this week about airports at the NBAA Convention in Atlanta and I used Chicago Meigs Field as an example of how people can rally to save an endangered field the way Steve Whitney and the Friends of Meigs did to save the “Coolest Little Airport in the World,” a few years ago.

Chicago’s mayor Richard Daley closed it once, but FOM got it reopened much to everyone’s surprise, especially Mayor Daley’s.

But then one summer’s evening, Daley destroyed a perfectly good lakefront airport in the middle of the night with bulldozers closing the place forever.

And now, adding insult to injury for a kid who used to work at Meigs Field, a kid who used to fly into and out of Meigs – landed runway 18 one time in a Citation and scared the heck out of myself – I read an advertisement in AutoPilot magazine for a company prepared to build custom homes with hangars on Meigs Field.

It just ain’t fair I tell ya!

Meigs Field, just a mile or two from the legendary Wrigley Field, home of the soon to win the World Series Cubbies. And they want to build homes there. And the little Meigs Field control tower building is still standing there sort of guarding the site for someday when airplanes might return. Or maybe the mayor left it there to snub his nose at FOM.

And now, homes on Meigs Field.

Hang on … I just noticed something in this ad. This Meigs Field is in Houston, not Chicago. There’s a guy named Doug Meigs who wants to build an aviation subdivision down there and he’s somehow conned the FAA into giving him permission to use the name of our airport in Houston.

Have you no shame Doug Meigs?

FAA … figures. Meigs would still be a perfectly viable airport if the FAA had not handed it over to the mayor in the first place.

The good news at NBAA though was that another airport seems to have been pulled from the endangered list … Cleveland Burke Lakefront – also threatened with extinction – has been saved by the city.

Good for you guys who must have busted your tails to save the airport in Cleveland. You were rewarded by someone in government who listened.

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6 Responses to “Building Homes on Meigs Field”

  1. Steve Whitney, President, Friends of Meigs Field Says:

    Thanks for the support, Rob, but I want to make sure blame goes where blame is due.

    When I first read the title of your piece, I assumed it was about recent news stories about the City of Chicago possibly considering the Meigs Field site for (take your pick), a bicycle racing venue for the 2016 Olympics, a new site for the Chicago Children’s Museum, or the site of a proposed land-based casino–I mean, “family gaming center.”

    When I realized you were talking about the “new Meigs Field”–recently allowed to be named such by the FAA–in Texas, my feelings shifted a bit.

    On the one hand, as an original Meigs supporter, it seems a little crass and–at least wishfully–premature to go about handing off the best known name in GA airports to whoever asks first.

    On the other hand, I choose to assume that Mr. Meigs’ intentions are honorable, that his intention is to preserve a famous name in aviation history, and not merely to profit from it.

    The true “villains” in the Meigs travesty are Mayor Richard Daley, and–to a lesser degree–the FAA itself.

    Since 1996, Daley closed the field three times, 1996, 2001, and 2003, the first two closures being successfully fought by a coalition led by Friends of Meigs Field, AOPA, NBAA, EAA, and others. There is still an outside chance–as long as nothing permanent is built on the Meigs site–that an airport could reopen someday, but not, in my estimation, while King Richard is in office.

    [Interestingly, as long as there is a proposed use for Meigs in the 2016 Olympics, it tends to preclude any other permanent use any time before the host city is decided in 2009. Aviation supporters connected with the Olympic movement may want to ask the IOC to consider Chicago only if it reopens Meigs Field.]

    Daley was so obsessed with closing Meigs (located less than 1/2 mile from his home), that he was ultimately willing to violate FAA regulations, throw away much of his public goodwill, and in the long run be remembered as a power-abusing tyrant instead of the “green mayor” he so desperately wants to be.

    The FAA’s principal culpability came in 1996, when it failed to defend its grant agreements for grants to the City of Chicago for Meigs. Chicago had promised in the agreements–some signed personally by Daley–to keep Meigs open until 2009, by either buying or seeking a lease extension for the Meigs property, either of which Daley could have accomplished with a phone call.

    Instead, rumor has it, FAA Administrator Hinson bowed to direction from US DOT’s office of airport policy, headed at the time by–surprise!–Frank Kruesi, former right-hand man to Mayor Daley. Kruesi, after serving his DOT stint, served until recently as head of the Chicago Transit Authority (a reward for his loyalty while at DOT?)

    [Kruesi was also reported to be the project leader on the midnight destruction of Meigs in 2003, even while he was supposedly heading the CTA.]

    Hinson allowed Chicago to get out of its grant agreement by “making a similar investment elsewhere in its aviation system.” Some of the grant money for Meigs had been used to buy snow removal equipment. The “similar investment” turned out to be–get this!–driving the snow plows over to Midway Airport to help remove snow there.

    The FAA under Marion Blakey, to its modest credit, did take the City of Chicago to the mat over its closure of Meigs without notice, but that action was way too little, way too late.

    Ultimately, the City of Chicago spent $600,000 taxpayer dollars fighting a maximum $30,000 fine, which they eventually paid anyway, although they never had to admit wrongdoing. They also were made to repay $1,000,000 in Airport Improvement Funds that had been illegally diverted to the Meigs demolition, though again never admitting guilt.

    The upshot is that the true evildoers here are not those in the GA community, but those who abuse the public trust.

    I thank you for the kind words about Friends of Meigs Field. The organization still exists, at a low level of intensity, for the possibility of a day when Mayor Daley is out of power, and Chicago still needs a downtown airport. Don’t hold your breath until then, but do keep the faith.

  2. Jess Sightler Says:

    Steve Whitney, your persistence and dedication to this task amaze me! I’ve been following this story for a long time now, and your willingness to keep up the fight against seemingly impossible odds has always impressed me.

    Thank you for your dedication and hard work!

  3. Rob Mark Says:

    Thanks for chiming in here Steve.

    Added to the list of people who trashed CGX one night are the people who stood by and hoped someone else would do the heavy lifting to save the airport in the end.

    One man told me at the NBAA Convention in Atlanta, “I usually don’t get involved in any of those protest things because it has always worked out in the end anyway.”

    I do stand corrected on the triple closure of Meigs though. I thought it was only two.

  4. Barry Axelrod Says:

    Rob, good comments. I remember flying in to CGX when you worked there.

    Keep up the good work.

    Barry

  5. Jack Says:

    that is a huge shame….seemed like a great airport.

  6. Chicago Cubs Says:

    This is the best shot the Cubs have at winning the World Series since I have a fan, go Cubs.

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