One of the most astonishing chapters in U.S. aviation history unfolded ten years ago when Chicago Mayor Richard Daley ordered a secretive raid on Meigs Field, sending heavy equipment in under cover of darkness to carve massive Xs across the runway. At the time, Daley claimed the move was necessary to protect the city “from terrorism” but he soon admitted that it was the first stage of fulfillment of a long-held dream to turn Northerly Island, the man-made strip of land that housed Meigs, into an ambitious waterfront park. Ironically, the only development of any significance has been the repurposing of the terminal building into a nature center to anchor some walking trails and a 30-acre patch of ground seeded to natural prairie grasses. LiveNation also built a temporary stage to host concerts but the park is a far cry from the urban Shangri La envisioned by Daley. Meanwhile, a few stalwarts continue the fight to “save Meigs” although there’s no realistic expectation that aircraft will ever return, which, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, happened with the advance knowledge of senior officials of the Department of Transportation.
In its anniversary piece on the destruction of Meigs, the Sun-Times says then-Chicago Transit Authority President Frank Kreusi, one of Daley’s most trusted supporters, hatched the plan and also contacted DOT in advance to make sure there would be “no significant pushback.” Although FAA officials were quick to publicly condemn the destruction of Meigs the consequences were ultimately relatively minor. Chicago was fined $33,000 for failing to provide the required 30-day advance notice of closure of the airport and ordered to pay back $1 million of federal airport improvement funds spent on Meigs in previous years. Chicago avoided any penalty at all for improperly diverting federal grants and airline ticket tax revenue to cover the $1.5 million cost of the destruction. It could have been fined $4.5 million for illegally using that money.