Mayor Lori Lightfoot should consider renaming Soldier Field to raise funds and ‘explore the feasibility’ of enclosing the stadium with a dome or roof, an advisory committee she appointed to study the Chicago museum campus has recommended. .
The panel’s work marks Lightfoot’s bid to keep the Chicago Bears, who are exploring a potential move to Arlington Heights, deflecting blame if the venerable sports team leaves and identifying potential ways to improve a stretch of land that also includes the Adler Planetarium, Museum Grounds, Shedd Aquarium and the McCormick Place lakefront building.
Lightfoot’s panel recommends turning Solidarity Drive into a year-round plaza, creating educational programs for children, and adding large-scale artwork to rejuvenate the campus. For the museum campus, the report recommends improving the CTA service and adding a trolley and improving circulation 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.
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“Our beloved Museum Campus is an essential part of this city and requires special attention and care,” Lightfoot said in a statement. “The Museum Campus Task Force has provided us with a useful framework to guide this work, as well as to improve the (campus) as a whole.”
Although Lightfoot has focused on the entire museum campus, it is the report’s recommendations for Soldier Field that will draw the most attention.
“To better utilize Soldier Field year-round, the city should also explore the possibility of enclosing the stadium. From May to December, Soldier Field is a bustling and busy place. During this period, the stadium is estimated to host between 96,000 and 240,000 people each month. However, arena usage is much lower from January through April when weather conditions limit the use of outdoor stadium spaces,” the panel said.
“During these colder months, stadium attendance is estimated to range from 1,200 to 66,800 people per month. Although a closed venue is unlikely to attract many more major concerts due to touring windows limited, among other reasons, would negate inconsistent weather conditions and allow Chicago to host coveted one-time events such as the Super Bowl and NCAA Final Four Championship.
The report stops short of recommending the roof, however, saying that “further analysis is needed to fully understand the specific costs, potential direct and indirect economic impacts, and the full range of potential funding sources available to determine the Chicago taxpayer friendly options.”
He notes that the city should consider a sponsorship deal with naming rights for Soldier Field, which was dedicated to soldiers in the 1920s. Sponsorship deals at other stadiums, including SoFi Stadium in California and MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, grossed $400 million each, the panel said. Other arenas — like Caesars Superdome in New Orleans — show you can keep “Soldier Field” in the name and continue to live up to its legacy as a tribute to American soldiers while generating revenue, said the panel.
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. While 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 stores, restaurants and entertainment.
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 the bears leave.
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Other recommendations include a suggestion that the city and other agencies “carefully evaluate” future options for Lakeside Center, a part of the McCormick Place Center that faces “overdue use and significant maintenance needs.” . But any attempt to upgrade the facility is likely to be costly, and the 51-page report generally does not discuss funding.
The panel also recommends setting up a free or low-cost cart, citing a program that worked in Chicago in the early 2000s but was halted in 2009 when its federal and corporate funding dried up. How a similar program could avoid the same fate is unclear, although the report says it “should eventually become self-sustaining through revenue from campus-specific sources.”
Another proposal is the creation of a pedestrian bridge linking the North Island.
“During the 1933-34 Century of Progress World’s Fair, held on both sides of Burnham Harbour, the island was connected to the mainland by three bridges: one at today’s Solidarity Drive, another at 16th Street and one at the southern end of the peninsula,” the report states. “With this in mind, the task force recommends that a new pedestrian bridge be created to connect the North Island either to the latitude of about 16th or 18th Street, i.e. at the southern end of the peninsula.”
Further study, however, would be needed to recommend the most appropriate design and accommodate existing boats in the harbor and their access to Lake Michigan, which poses logistical challenges.
Other proposals relate to transportation to campus and Soldier Field, which can be a real challenge. The proposals include improving the CTA’s bus service and other infrastructure changes.
For next steps, the task force recommends that Lightfoot create a “stakeholder coordination body” to work with the Park District, campus museums, city departments and others “to advance the execution of the recommendations outlined. in this report”.