February 08, 2001 Chicago Tribune

Tribune Staff Writer
February 7, 2001

Bargaining with Gov. George Ryan over new runways at O'Hare International Airport will not include any talk of keeping Meigs Field open, Mayor Richard Daley asserted Tuesday.

An upcoming meeting with Ryan will focus on the region's aviation needs, and "we're willing to talk about any issue," Daley said. But when reporters asked if Meigs might be part of the discussion, he said flatly that the lakefront airport is "off the table."

"Meigs Field will be turned into a beautiful park for the people of the city of Chicago," Daley said. "Just think of that. It is a beautiful piece of property there, and it should be turned into a people's park. It shouldn't be used for a group of people flying in and out."

Daley is free to shut Meigs on Feb. 10, 2002, under a compromise worked out in 1997 with then-Gov. Jim Edgar. Despite opposition from business leaders and aviation fans, the mayor has given every indication he plans to do just that.

Converting the field into a nature preserve is a pet project of Daley, who favors increased lakefront green space.

Some Republican legislators last fall tried to make Meigs a bargaining chip, suggesting that the field be kept open in return for support for a Soldier Field renovation bill. But the mayor held firm as Daley aides insisted that such a requirement would be a "deal breaker" on the Soldier Field legislation. The Meigs proposal withered and died.

As for new runways at O'Hare, something the mayor favors to reduce delays and increase capacity, Daley said reporters unfairly have zeroed in on Ryan after giving Edgar a pass on the issue during his tenure as governor.

"You never put any pressure on the former governor ... so all of a sudden, you are pressuring this governor ... with headlines," Daley said. "I think in the past, you always winked and turned your cheek and just said, `Well, we can't do it. We gave up.'"

In fact, Edgar was questioned repeatedly about the need to expand O'Hare. He publicly called for building a new runway solely for delay relief, but only if suburbanites who lived under the airport's flight paths would consent.

Edgar had sponsored discussions designed to fashion a compromise, which might have included a cap on flights and a ban on late-night operations in return for a runway. But those discussions ultimately went nowhere.

Under Illinois law, only the governor has the authority to approve new runways.

Daley spoke to reporters at a news conference where he announced $100 million in new federal tax credits and tax-exempt bonds that will allow Chicago to meet its goal for funding a five-year, $1.3 billion affordable-housing plan.

The new resources will permit construction of 1,000 homes and apartment units, officials said.

Meanwhile, the Daley administration has decided to increase the goal of its five-year plan and now is seeking an additional $150 million in funding.