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Northerly Island plans would create offshore reefs

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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.


Northerly Island would get a dramatic makeover that would expand its nature conservatory to Lake Michigan with a series of offshore reefs that would create a water playground for swimmers and kayakers under new plans that will be unveiled tonight by the Chicago Park District.

In addition, the old Meigs Field terminal building could be transformed into an outdoor shelter. Gutting it and removing the windows would make it safer for the migratory bird population that travels along the lakefront, officials said.

"When you have big large glass windows - migratory birds aren't used to that," said Bob O'Neill, who heads the Grant Park Conservancy. "So they see their reflection and it scares them and they crash. Or they think it's another bird and crash. Or they don't see the glass and they fly right in to it and break their necks."

The Charter One Pavilion currently on site will be replaced, but the re-imagined 91-acre nature sanctuary will still have a rock 'n roll edge.

In her design for the park, famed architect Jeanne Gang will create a "lower profile" music and performance venue with a green roof.

O'Neill says the island is a getaway from the city's urban core without having to take a two- or three-hour drive.

"When you get to the [southern] end of the island, 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 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.

The mayor's infamous midnight destruction of Meigs in March, 2003 made the dream possible.

If Chicago had won the right to host the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, Northerly Island would have been the site for several major Olympic events.

But with the Chicago's first-round flame-out in the Olympic sweepstakes last year, the plans to transform the island are moving ahead.

"They've been looking at great plans there. [It's the] largest open space in the city of Chicago along the Great Lakes. I mean - that's really a special" place, Daley said Thursday.

"The plans are good. They're gonna basically try to make it a wonderful nature area and also involve people in kayaking and other things, which we've been talking about for years. I think the plan is great - and to rebuild every park and build the lakefront for people's use."

The design will be unveiled at 6:30 p.m. meeting Thursday night at the Chicago Architecture Foundation, 224 S. Michigan. The public will be able to weigh in on the plan at the meeting.

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