SOUTH LOOP — Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Tuesday touted an ambitious project to restore the south end of Northerly Island to a public park reflecting the original shoreline and wetlands.
"This will become the heart of this museum campus," Emanuel said in a news conference on the site of the new park.
The $7 million project, which has been called a bargain, will restore wetlands to a site where planes used to land when the site was an airport, Meigs Field. As it is, landscaping has already exposed pylons from the 1933 Century of Progress World Exposition.
The mayor and Chicago Park District Supt. Michael Kelley said the 50-acre site, more than half of the Northerly Island landscape, will be ready for public access later this summer or fall, although full plans aren't expected to be completed until 2017. It will be converted to wetlands and campgrounds, but it is also being promoted as an addition to the museum campus, with plans for the Shedd Aquarium to have an underwater camera in one of the new ponds.
The mayor spoke of "the incredible museum campus that we're building with Northerly Island at its very heart and center."
The Mayor's Press Office declined to comment on whether Northerly Island would figure in the city's pitch for the George Lucas Cultural Arts Museum. But the final report issued by Emanuel's Site Selection Task Force said the suggested location, directly across Burnham Harbor, would make a walkway possible to the southern end of Northerly Island.
"A pedestrian connection from the proposed site to Northerly Island is particularly appealing and practical," the report states.
"There is no museum park in the nation, even some national ones, that will compare to the museum campus that we have here in the City of Chicago," said U.S. Rep. Danny Davis (D-Chicago) at Tuesday's event on Northerly Island.
Immediate plans for the site, however, are more basic and functional.
"This thing used to be a runway," Emanuel said. "It used to serve a lot of corporate interests — a lot of people taking private planes.
"It's now gonna serve our kids and our families," he added, as the city is out to "restore it to nature."
Kelly said the site, which he called "Chicago's oasis," will welcome kids in the city's summer camp programs.
"In just a few short days, Northerly Island will be bustling with children," he said.
Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary of the Army for Civil Works, said the project was part of larger plans to restore 400 acres of Lake Michigan shoreline, with plans in the works that could total 1,000 acres.
Northerly Island is a 91-acre man-made peninsula originally planned by Daniel Burnham in 1909.
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