CHICAGO – A panel appointed by Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot recommended the city locate the enclosed military zone, as part of an effort to persuade the Chicago Bears to stay at their lakeside home instead of vacationing to the suburbs.
The panel also recommended expanding the capacity of the stadium with the fewest seats in the NFL, as well as installing synthetic turf and selling the naming rights. Adding a roof or dome could attract more concerts like the Super Bowls and Final Force, as well.
“While engaging the military sector will result in significant investment, further steps are needed to fully understand the specific costs, potential direct and indirect economic impacts, and the full range of potential funding sources available to determine options that are respectable to Chicago taxpayers.” analysis is needed.” the panel said.
The group’s work is part of a larger proposal to transform a stretch of land that also includes the Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium, Adler Planetarium and McCormick Place lakeside building. This includes better transportation and making the area more bike friendly.
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Soldier Field’s recommendations can also be seen as Lightfoot’s attempt to deflect blame when the bears are gone.
The Bears took a step toward leaving Soldier Field in September 2021, when they entered into a $197.2 million buy and sell agreement (PSA) with Churchill Downs Inc. for the 326-acre Arlington Park property in suburban Arlington Heights after the track, which was hosted. Racing was put up for sale from 1927. The Arlington Park site is 30 miles northwest of Soldier Field.
“The Chicago Bears are exploring Arlington Park, the only possible project for the development of a new stadium,” the Bears said in a statement released Friday. “As part of our mutual agreement with the seller of that property, we are not pursuing alternative stadium deals or sites, including renovations to Soldier Field, while we are under contract. We have informed the City of Chicago that we intend to honor our contractual commitments as we continue our due diligence and pre-development activities on the Arlington Heights property. In the meantime, we remain committed to fulfilling our Permit Operating Agreement (POA) at Soldier Field. To this end, we maintain a strong working relationship with Rosa Escareno, the new District General Superintendent of Chicago Parks, her staff, and the ASM Global Management team.
At NFL owners’ meetings in March, Bears president George McCaskey reiterated that the team is still in the early stages of deciding how it will develop the land at Arlington Park.
Team president Ted Phillips has said the deal likely won’t close until early 2023, at which point the organization will decide “whether it is financially viable to attempt to develop it further.”
The Bears’ lease at Soldier Field – their home since 1971 – runs through 2033. The stadium, owned by the Chicago Park District, underwent a $690 million transformation in 2002, which forced the team to play home games at the University of Illinois. This eventually led to the loss of its National Historic Landmark designation.
The interior was demolished, replaced by a structure dominated by glass, like a flying saucer, which stood atop the famous Greek and Romanesque colonnades. The clash of styles drew widespread criticism, and the renovation reduced seating for Bear games to 61,500, the lowest in the NFL.
In March, McCaskey noted a “tremendous attachment” to both Soldier Field and nearby Wrigley Field, where the Bears played for 50 years before moving to the shores of the lake.
Contribution: ESPN Bears reporter Courtney Cronin