Sneak Peek at "The 606"

Bloomingdale Trail Gets a New Name

Click image to view photo galleryIt's being dubbed the Millennium Park for the neighborhoods, set to open in 2014. On Tuesday, the final plans for Chicago's much talked about three-mile long elevated park will be revealed, but Chicago Tonight is getting an early sneak peek.

Not only is this giant abandoned railway getting a facelift - - it’s getting a new name and image. What was once referred to as "The Bloomingdale Trail," will henceforth be known as "The 606."

A three-and-a-half mile abandoned railway is about to be transformed.

“It’s one of the most exciting new parks, new additions to our open space the city has had in a long time,” said Chicago’s Deputy Mayor Steve Koch.

What has long been a breeding ground for vagrants, litter and the occasional jogger will become a gleaming new elevated park with bike and running paths. The final design plans obtained by Chicago Tonight include landscaping, public art, and new street level entry parks adjacent to the structure. The park will even include an observatory, designed by the Adler Planetarium.

Tomorrow's unveiling is the culmination of years of advocacy, hundreds of community meetings, and the coming together of experts from several different fields.

“Artists, engineers, architects all work hand in hand to create something that's going to be unique and expresses Chicago in a different way,” said Beth White who has headed up the project for the nonprofit Trust for the Public Land.

It has for years been known as The Bloomingdale Trail because it runs along Bloomingdale Avenue on the northwest side, but some of the organizers said that name caused confusion.

“We had lots of questions,” said White. “Is it in Bloomington? Is it in Bloomingdale? It really didn't convey a park and transit system.”

White admits that the Bloomingdale name carried a bit of baggage with potential funders, particularly department stores not named Bloomingdale’s. 

“We are in a fundraising campaign. We wanted it to work for anyone that wanted to support the trail,” said White.

Enter Matt Gordon, a professional "namer" who came up with The 606 as the name for the entire project.  It’s a reference to the first three digits of all Chicago zip codes.

“The 606 says that this is something that belongs to everyone in Chicago,” said Gordon. “It’s something we all share, the first three digits, it’s a place we can all come.”

But park supporters say the name took a little getting used to

“I have to confess, I didn't immediately get it,” said Koch.

“When it was first presented, we all sort of went, ‘huh?’ said White.

“And then when it’s explained to you, it makes an enormous amount of sense,” said Koch. “I think it’s an identifier for the whole system.”

“The 606. It’s what we think is going to be just the right name to express the excitement behind this project,” said White.

Now that the plans are in place, the hard work of converting a 100-year-old structure into a natural park begins, starting with stripping out three miles of train track, replacing it with top soil, and repairing 38 dilapidated bridges along the trail.

The entire project is slated to cost $91 million with the money coming from state, local, federal and private sources. The line begins at Ashland and traverses four neighborhoods until it ends at Ridgeway.

Two years ago, we met neighbors along the route who were afraid living so close to a public space might present a host of problems. But park officials say they shouldn't be concerned.

“It’s going to be a far safer situation to have a beautiful, well-lit, controlled park than to have an abandoned railway that nobody's paying attention to,” said White.

Koch said the project always struck a chord with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who made it a priority.

“It talks a lot about what we are as a city that here your taking this 19th century industrial space and converting it to being used in a modern and innovative way for the 21st century,” said Koch.

Park organizers want to make clear that the actual trail part of the park will still be called the Bloomingdale Trail, but the totality of the project, including the new access parks will be called The 606. View a map below.

The 606 Map

The plans will officially be unveiled tomorrow at the McCormick Tribune YMCA, at the western-most access point to the trail. Groundbreaking is slated for August 1. Mayor Emanuel has expressed desire to have the trail in place by 2014, before the end of his first term in office.

What do you think of the Bloomingdale Trail’s new name, The 606? Share your comments below.