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Big dreams for Northerly Island

Mayor Daley has had dream turning Northerly Islinnature park ever since his mid-1990’s battle with then-Gov. Jim Edgar over future

Mayor Daley has had a dream of turning Northerly Island into a nature park ever since his mid-1990’s battle with then-Gov. Jim Edgar over the future of Meigs Field.

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Updated: December 13, 2010 8:15AM

Northerly Island would get a dramatic makeover that would expand its nature sanctuary to Lake Michigan with a series of offshore reefs -- complete with a sunken ship -- that would create a water playground for swimmers, divers and kayakers under plans unveiled by the Chicago Park District Thursday.

In addition, the old Meigs Field terminal building would be closed and transformed into an outdoor shelter for hikers.

And the Charter One Pavilion, an outdoor arena used only in summer months, would be replaced.

Chicago Park District officials are calling the plans a "framework" for a decades-long rehab of the island, which is really a man-made peninsula.

"This is a 20- to 30- year plan," said park district spokeswoman Zvezdana Kubat. "But you have to have a good framework in place."

There is no estimate on how much an overhaul of the 91-acre sanctuary would cost.

Currently, the park district is soliciting bids to construct a "lower profile" music venue -- complete with a green roof -- as imagined in a design by famed Chicago architect Jeanne Gang.

Bob O'Neill, who heads the Grant Park Conservancy, says the island is a getaway from the city's urban core, especially at the southern end of the peninsula where the reefs would be created.

"It will be like visiting Michigan or Wisconsin -- in a remote area -- except maybe when you turn around and see the skyline,'' he said.

Mayor Daley, who ordered the infamous midnight destruction of the airstrip at Meigs Field in March 2003, on Thursday praised the plans for the "largest open space in the city of Chicago along the Great Lakes.''

"The plan is great,'' he said.

O'Neill praised the planned dismantling of the former terminal building, which he said will protect migratory birds from crashing into its large glass windows.

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