Mayor Lori Lightfoot Unveils Soldier Field Dome Plan Among 3 Proposals to Prevent Chicago Bears from Going to Arlington Heights

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has revealed plans for Soldier Field that could cost up to $2.2 billion as part of her ongoing campaign to prevent the Bears from leaving the city for Arlington Heights, or at least deflect blame if the venerable football team leaves.

Lightfoot’s presentation, delivered at Soldier Field to a group that included the city’s top business leaders, said his administration wants the Bears to stay in Chicago but also make improvements to the Museum Campus on which it is located, 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 be “dome ready” with columns in both end zones, while the third would modify the venue as a multi-use facility more suitable for football “while improving its flexibility” for 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 who is the “primary tenant” of the stadium, but suggested the city might be willing to go ahead 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 city’s announcement. When asked for comment, the NFL team republished a statement they initially released earlier this month.

“The only potential project that the Chicago Bears are exploring for the development of a new stadium is Arlington Park. 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,” the Bears said. “We have advised 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.”

When asked if the Bears would consider his plans, Lightfoot said the team would be “foolish” not to consider staying in Chicago at Soldier Field. She and other speakers argued 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 offering and fans having an experience that extends beyond the game itself.

“How do we remake the game day experience? How do we create an immersive experience for fans? That’s where the world is headed,” said Bob Dunn of Landmark Development.

Lightfoot’s initial response to the NFL team’s interest in building a stadium in Arlington Heights was to call it “noise” and urge the Bears to focus on “being relevant after October.” Lightfoot has since 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 handpicked 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 roof.

The task force also recommended transforming 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 CTA service and reducing traffic in the area. Many of the report’s ideas are likely to face financial or political challenges as officials wait for the Bears to make a decision and determine their next steps.

Richard Price, president and CEO of Mesirow who led the task force, addressed the need for transportation improvements on Monday, saying “we all know it’s a challenge 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’s 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 reach and is outdated compared to newer soccer stadiums.

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

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the Soldier’s Camp Renovation completed in 2003 placed a saucer-shaped glass and steel structure over the limestone and colonnades of the original 1924 memorial to World War I veterans. and interest is paid in 2032.

As she tries to determine if it’s possible to keep the team in Chicago, the mayor also needs to prepare for a post-Bears future on the lakefront so she can come up with a forward-looking plan to try to defray lost revenue and civic prestige. if the Bears walk away, which helps explain Monday’s news conference.

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

The mayor was previously cold on the project, which needs various approvals, and did not endorse the project during the press conference.

The plan drew criticism from at least one of Lightfoot’s announced 2023 election opponents, state Rep. Kam Buckner, who said the city must stay focused on issues like public safety, schools, transportation and jobs.

“Any of these priorities should come before an expensive taxpayer-funded proposal to build a luxury sports stadium. Unless funded with private dollars, this project should never get off the ground. And the reality is that it probably never will,” Buckner said.

gpratt@chicagotribune.com

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