EDGEWATER — Oh Mr. Mayor, you're thinking way too small.
Edgewater resident Morry Matson wants not only an extended bike path to Thorndale Avenue — as Mayor Rahm Emanuel has proposed — but also a boardwalk that would snake along the lakefront, connecting Edgewater with the city's northernmost neighborhood of Rogers Park.
So far, Matson, 42, has collected hundreds of signatures from his neighbors and from Edgewater businesses that would benefit from an open lakefront that has been restricted since high-rises sprung up along Sheridan Road.
"Edgewater had a boardwalk a long time ago," Matson said, referring to one on the Edgewater Beach Hotel's property that was demolished in the 1950s to make way for the extension of Lake Shore Drive. "It's part of our neighborhood's history, culture and identity."
Matson also built a website to advertise the proposal he calls the "Edgewater Beachwalk," and he's ordered yellow T-shirts emblazoned with an image of Virginia Beach's boardwalk, which he's modeled his proposal from.
Matson's plan is to build the pathway in four sections over about a mile, he said, beginning with a short promenade from the Kathy Osterman Beach House to the end of the lakefront bike path at Ardmore Avenue. Then it would stretch across the sand to Lane Beach Park at Thorndale Avenue.
That much has been proposed by Emanuel and Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) — and has met mixed reviews from protective condo dwellers even though the city already has set aside $1.5 million for the $4 million project.
But Matson's idea goes beyond that of the city's.
The lighted pathway — split by a median of small shrubs, one side for pedestrians and the other for bicycles — would continue as a raised boardwalk from Thorndale to Berger Park, then to Devon Avenue Park and the "Jesus Statue" on Loyola University's campus, Matson said.
Matson, a native of Billings, Mont., who moved to the city in 2000, said he's not a bicyclist or avid lover of the outdoors, "but I do support a bike path and a place where people can walk with their families."
By the end of the year, he hopes to submit tens of thousands of signatures — he has more than 700 now — to Osterman. Then he wants a straw poll vote to assess community support and opposition before breaking ground in 2016, the Edgewater Beach Hotel's centennial.
"The big question is if we haven’t got enough money to build a nice bike path from Ardmore to Thorndale, where are we going to get the money?" said Sheli Lulkin, president of the Association of Sheridan Condo/Co-op Owners.
Yet, Matson said U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) sent him an email asking for more details about his proposal. And he's got the mayor's support, at least for a portion of the project.
Perhaps enough money can be pieced together.
"People come up with the money when they want to," said Matson.
Matson is floating a $200 million estimate for the project based on the Virginia Beach Boardwalk, but no official price tag has been given.
Matson met with Jason Philbin, the president of boardwalk manufacturer PermaTrak North America, on Tuesday.
Philbin, based in South Carolina, said he was in the area on other business when he decided to set up a meeting with Matson at Osterman Beach to go over the proposal.
"I love his idea," Philbin said. "Anytime I’m in Chicago, and no exception on this particular trip, I love to run ... I’m on the trail.
"The thought of extending it, I love it."