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 prevent bears from skipping the city to Arlington Heights — or at least shift the blame if the venerable soccer team leaves.

The Lightfoot show, presented at Soldier Field to a group of the city’s top businessmen, said its management wants the Bears to stay in Chicago but also make improvements to the Museum Campus they sit on even if they leave.

The first option is to surround the stadium with a dome. Another option would be to rebuild the stadium to make it a “prefab dome” with columns in both terminal areas, while a third option would modify the venue as a multi-purpose facility more suitable for football “while improving its flexibility” for other events.

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

The mayor said the cost of the project and option will depend on who the stadium’s “primary tenant” is, but noted that the city might be willing to go ahead with a dome for another team, noting that other cities host more than one NFL team. .

But the Lightfoot show left as many questions as it provided answers. Could the dome be enough to convince the bears to stay in a playground they neither own nor control? Who will pay for the construction?

For their part, the Bears showed no interest in declaring the city. When asked for comment, the NFL team reissued a statement they initially issued earlier this month.

“The only potential project the Chicago Bears are exploring to develop a new stadium is Arlington Park. As part of our mutual agreement with the seller of that property, we are not pursuing deals or alternative stadium locations, including renovations at Soldier Field, while we are under contract,” Bears said. “We have informed the City of Chicago that we intend to honor our contractual obligations while continuing to perform due diligence and advance development activities at the Arlington Heights property.”

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Asked if the Bears would consider their plans, Lightfoot said the team would be “an idiot” if they didn’t consider staying in Chicago at Soldier Field. She and other speakers emphasized that it would be cheaper for the team to stay at Soldier Field than to build a venue elsewhere and stressed the importance of the team delivering and that fans have an experience that goes beyond the game itself.

“How do we reshape the Game Day experience? How do we create an immersive fan experience?” Bob Dunn of Landmark Development said this is where the world is headed.

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

Earlier this month, a group chosen by the mayor said that on Lightfoot Consider renaming Soldier Field To raise hundreds of millions of dollars and “explore the feasibility” of surrounding the stadium with a dome or roof.

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The task force also recommended converting Solidarity Drive into a year-round plaza, creating educational programs for children and adding large-scale art to rejuvenate the campus. The report also recommended improving the CTA service and reducing traffic in the area. Many of the report ideas will likely face financial or political challenges as officials wait for the bears to decide and determine their next steps.

Richard Price, Mesirow Chairman and CEO who led the working group, spoke of the need to improve transportation on Monday, saying, “We all know it’s hard to get here and get around. That has to 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 Memorial Stadium while Soldier Field underwent a $690 million renovation. The stadium, owned by the Chicago Park District, seats 61,500 fans, the smallest capacity in the NFL. It can be difficult to access and is old compared to newer football stadiums.

The Bears signed a purchase agreement to the Arlington International Racecourse last fall, which won’t close until later this year at the earliest. Although it’s not a done deal, Bears’ interest in Arlington Heights has sparked fierce debate over whether and at what cost Chicago should try to keep the team. One advantage of the Bears’ move to Arlington Heights is that they will be able to develop the 326-acre property around the stadium with shopping, dining and entertainment, an option the team at Soldier Field did not have.

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The Soldier Square renovation It was completed in 2003 and a bowl-shaped glass and steel structure sits atop the limestone and columns of the original 1924 Memorial to World War I Veterans. $432 million of the project was covered by taxpayers, a number that will balloon exponentially once hundreds of millions of dollars in debt and interest are paid off in 2032.

As she tries to determine if the team can be retained in Chicago, the mayor also needs to prepare for a post-Lakefront Bears future so she can present a forward-looking plan to try to withstand the loss of revenue and civic prestige if the Bears leave, helping explain Monday’s press conference.

Lightfoot was joined at the press conference by Dunn, a developer who has been pushing One Central, a multibillion dollar development between McCormick Place and Field Museum that is also a transit hub.

The former mayor was kind to the project, which needs various approvals, and did not approve the project during the press conference.

The plan drew criticism from at least one opponent of the 2023 election announced by Lightfoot, State Representative Cam Buckner, who said the city needed to remain focused on issues such as public safety, schools, transportation and jobs.

Any one of these priorities must come before an expensive taxpayer-funded proposal to build a luxury sports stadium. Without being funded by private dollars, this project should not have started at all. The reality, Buckner said, is that it likely never will.

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