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City finds money for abandoned rail to become Bloomingdale Trail

Bloomingdale Trail proposed renderings | submitted artwork | Sun-Times

Bloomingdale Trail proposed renderings | submitted artwork | Sun-Times

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Updated: April 13, 2012 10:36AM

The long-anticipated transformation of an abandoned railway to a linear park on Chicago’s Northwest Side is getting the $9 million needed to begin construction.

That means groundbreaking for the 2.7-mile Bloomingdale Trail, which will include bicycling and pedestrian paths, will begin next year and finish in 2014, city officials say.

For more than a decade, community groups and city planners have been mulling the east-west line stretching from Elston to Central between Armitage and North.

While funneling bicyclists and pedestrians toward and out of downtown, planners say the trail will connect six existing and planned parks flanking the railway along with the neighborhoods of Humboldt Park, Logan Square, Wicker Park and Bucktown.

“We’re taking this industrial-use site and converting it in to a space for community members,” said David Spielfogel, the city’s chief of policy and strategic planning.

Beth White, Chicago director for The Trust for Public Land who’s part of the private-public partnership involved in the planning and fund-raising, looks at the area like a “charm bracelet” with the trail serving as the bracelet and the parks dotting the area serving as charms that will offer everything from recreation to tranquil spots to sit and read a book.

Already, city officials secured $37 million in federal funding for the project — short of the $46 million needed to put in the trail system and access points and get it open to the public.

On Monday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel will announce the final $9 million has been raised.

Exelon is donating $5 million while Boeing Co. and CNA are giving $1 million apiece. Taxpayers will take care of the rest with $2 million coming out of Chicago Park District coffers, city officials say.

Steve Solomon, Exelon’s vice president of corporate relations, says the trail and parks could serve as the “Millennium Park of the West Side” and provide green space in a part of the city where it’s lacking.

The donation will help cover the design and planned environmental education programs through the park district and other groups, Solomon said.

The Land for Public Trust will continue to seek private and corporate donations for another $36 million — funds that will go toward building and sprucing up existing parks next to the trail. The project’s final price tag, including land acquisition, will hover around $100 million.

This is not the city’s first rails-to-trails conversion — others include the Sauganash Trail on the Northwest Side and the Major Taylor Trail on the South Side.

In 2009, New York City opened the High Line park on an abandoned rail right-of-way — with help from celebrity advocates like designer Diane von Furstenberg. But as Chicago planners like to point out, the Bloomingdale Trail will be twice as long as New York’s and will allow bicycles.

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