BUCKTOWN — After more than a decade of planning and preparation, construction on the highly anticipated Bloomingdale Trail is set to begin.
On Tuesday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel presided over the official groundbreaking for the Bloomingdale Trail, a project that's been in the city's pipeline for more than 10 years and is estimated to cost $91 million in federal, local and private dollars.
Complete with shovels and dirt, the ceremony took place 16-feet above the ground, on the section of the trail adjacent to ''Park 567'' at 1805 N. Milwaukee Ave., just north of Milwaukee Avenue and Leavitt Street in Bucktown.
The park is one of five ground-level neighborhood parks that will link up to the 2.7-mile, multi-use path, which is named for Bloomingdale Avenue, the street the path runs along between Ridgeway and Ashland avenues.
Walsh Construction was selected to build the trail, at a cost of $53.7 million, officials announced last week.
The Bloomingdale Trail will serve as the centerpiece to a larger system that organizers have coined ''The 606'' due to the first three numerals of the zip code all Chicago residents share.
Designed to "provide an urban oasis" for the 80,000 people who live within a 10-minute walk of the park and trail system as well as serve as a tourist attraction, The 606 is scheduled to open in fall 2014, officials said in a written statement.
At a press conference after the groundbreaking Tuesday, Emanuel predicted The 606 "will do for neighborhoods what Millennium Park has done for downtown" and said the project is "part of a strategy" to put every child in the city of Chicago within a seven-minute walk from a park within the next five years.
Emanuel was flanked by officials from the Chicago Department of Transportation and the Chicago Park District, as well as executives from Boeing and Exelon, which donated $5 million to The 606.
Exelon official Ruth Ann Gillis said a portion of the corporation's "transformative gift" will be used to create a full-time Exelon fellow position that will work with schoolchildren who attend the 22 schools located along the trail to provide environmental education.
Beth White, director of the Chicago office of The Trust for Public Land, a national land conservation organization tapped by the city to be the lead private partner in the managing of the project as well as oversee the fundraising campaign for private donations, called Emanuel "the best friend The 606 could have."
White lauded the mayor for being receptive to learning about the trail early in his mayoral campaign.
Several residents who attended the groundbreaking credited Emanuel for "prioritizing the project more so than the previous administration," as Bucktown resident Jonathan Goldman put it.
Joe Kopera, 64, said he is "happy they are finally doing something about [the trail], it's been an eyesore for years."
In the 51 years he has lived in Logan Square, Kopera said he has never been up on the trail but plans to go on it once it's open to the public.
Bucktown resident Scott Schneider said he is excited about using the trail and has only been on it once or twice but would use it more when it's complete.
"It's kind of rough for walking on," Schneider said of the current state of the trail.
So far, the main criticisms of The 606 have come from neighbors who live near the trail who're concerned about an influx of visitors. They are also concerned about what will happen to existing flora, such as a 30-year-old Chinese elm tree that hangs over the 1800 block of North Hoyne Street, which Schneider says he's "hoping they can find a way to save."
When Scott Goldstein moved into the area nearly three years ago, he said the trail was "nebulous, theoretical, a concept, something you heard about through the grapevine."
Goldstein said he's "very excited about the trail" but is concerned about debris and the traffic flow from those entering and leaving Park 567 through the alley behind North Leavitt Street.
"I've been woken up in middle of the night to fights, fireworks and even last night, the rail riders were there making noise," Goldstein said, referring to the traveling homeless twenty-somethings that frequent Wicker Park and Bucktown in the summer months.
"I want [the trail] to be an economic engine for the neighborhood rather than a magnet for debris and crime. I just hope they're ready to handle the influx of people," Goldstein said.