Chicago Bears Soldier Field dome proposal by Mayor Lightfoot

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has unveiled plans for Soldier Field that could cost up to $2.2 billion as part of her ongoing campaign to stop the Bears from leaving town for Arlington Heights — or at least deflect blame if the venerable sports team leaves.

Lightfoot’s presentation, presented at Soldier Field to a group including city business leaders, said his administration wants the Bears to stay in Chicago, but also make improvements to the museum campus on which it is found even if they leave.

The first option would be to enclose the stadium with a dome. Another option would be to rebuild the stadium to make it “dome-ready” with columns at both end zones, while the third would modify the site into a multi-purpose facility better suited to football “while improving its flexibility” to other events.

“Soldier Field should be a year-round destination,” Lightfoot said.

The mayor said the cost of the project and the option would depend on the “lead tenant” of the stadium, but suggested the city might be willing to move forward with a dome for another team, noting that there are other cities that host more than one NFL team. .

But Lightfoot’s presentation left as many questions as it answered. Could a dome be enough to convince the Bears to stay in a stadium they don’t own or control? Who would pay for the construction?

For their part, the Bears showed no interest in the announcement of the city. Asked for comment, the NFL team reposted a statement it originally released earlier this month.

“The only potential project that the Chicago Bears are exploring for a new stadium development is Arlington Park. As part of our mutual agreement with the seller of this property, we are not seeking other stadium offers or sites, including renovations at Soldier Field, as long as we are under contract,” the Bears said. “We have notified the City of Chicago that we intend to honor our contractual commitments as we continue our due diligence and pre-development on the Arlington Heights property.”

But the mayor said the Bears would be “foolish” not to consider staying in Chicago. She and other speakers argued that it would be cheaper for the team to stay at Soldier Field than to build a new venue elsewhere and stressed the importance for the team to offer and for the fans to have an experience that extends beyond the game itself.

“How do we re-create the game day experience? How do we create an immersive experience for the fans? That’s where the (world) is going,” said campus panelist Bob Dunn of Landmark Development. of the Mayor’s Museum.

Lightfoot’s initial response to the NFL team’s interest in building a stadium in Arlington Heights was to call it “noise” and to urge the Bears to focus on “being relevant after October “. Since then, Lightfoot has raised the possibility of building an expensive dome over Soldier Field and appointed a task force to examine the museum campus that houses the stadium.

Earlier this month, the mayor’s hand-picked group said Lightfoot should consider renaming Soldier Field to potentially raise hundreds of millions of dollars and “explore the feasibility” of enclosing the stadium with a dome or a roof.

The task force also recommended turning Solidarity Drive into a year-round plaza, creating educational programs for children, and adding large-scale artwork to rejuvenate the campus. The report also recommended improving CTA service and reducing traffic in the area. Many ideas in the report are likely to face financial or political challenges as officials wait for the Bears to make a decision and settle their next steps.

The task force also recommended turning Solidarity Drive into a year-round plaza, creating educational programs for children, and adding large-scale artwork to rejuvenate the campus. The report also recommended improving CTA service and reducing traffic in the area. Many ideas in the report are likely to face financial or political challenges as officials wait for the Bears to make a decision and settle their next steps.

Richard Price, president and chief executive of Mesirow Financial who led the task force, addressed the need for improved transportation on Monday, saying “we all know it’s a challenge to get here and get move. This must be part of the solution.

The Bears have played at Soldier Field since moving from Wrigley Field in 1971. They played the 2002 season at Champaign’s Memorial Stadium while Soldier Field underwent a $690 million renovation. The stadium, which is owned by the Chicago Park District, seats 61,500 fans, the smallest capacity in the NFL. It can be difficult to reach and is outdated compared to newer football stadiums.

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The Bears signed a deal to purchase Arlington International Racetrack last fall, which won’t close until later this year at the earliest. Although not a done deal, the Bears’ interest in Arlington Heights has sparked a rigorous debate over whether Chicago should try to keep the team and at what cost. One of the benefits for the Bears of moving to Arlington Heights is that they could expand the 326-acre property around the stadium with shopping, dining and entertainment, an option the team wouldn’t have at Soldier Field. .

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The Soldier Field renovation completed in 2003 placed a saucer-like structure of glass and steel atop the limestone and colonnades of the original 1924 monument to World War I veterans. Taxpayers have covered $432 million of the project, a number that will increase significantly once the hundreds of millions of dollars in debt and interest are paid off in 2032.

As she tries to figure out if it’s possible to keep the team in Chicago, the mayor must also prepare for a post-Bears lakeside future so she can lay out a forward-looking plan to try to offset the loss of income and civic prestige. if they leave, which helps explain today’s press conference.

Lightfoot was joined at Monday’s press conference by Bob Dunn, a developer who pushed One Central, a multi-billion dollar development between McCormick Place and the Field Museum which is also a transit hub.

The mayor was previously cool with the project, which requires various approvals.

Check back for more on this breakup story.

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