Chicago officials have just unveiled three concepts for the redevelopment of Soldier Field. This is in response to plans to move the local NFL franchise, Bears, out of the city and attempt to keep the team in the 'Windy City'. The most spectacular redevelopment proposal involves completely roofing the stadium.
The Chicago Bears, a NFL franchise, took the first steps last year to purchase the Arlington Heights racetrack. It is located in a suburb of Chicago, about 40 km from the city centre. A preliminary agreement was reached on September 21, 2021, and the deal itself is expected to be completed in 2022/23.
The Bears have played at Soldier Field since 1971. The stadium is located near the city centre, right on the shores of Lake Michigan. Unfortunately, this prime location also creates access problems and hinders the possibility of building additional commercial facilities around the arena. The last comprehensive redevelopment of the stadium took place between 2002 and 2003, after which the facility acquired a controversial, post-modern form. It combines the historic core with modern architectural solutions.
As a result of the 'upgrade', Soldier Field, which was built back in 1924, was removed from the list of historic landmarks. The Bears' home venue, with a current capacity of 61,500, is the smallest stadium in the NFL at the moment. Having seen a number of new football arenas being built in recent years, the Chicago club's governing body has dreamed of a modern home of its own.
In response to these plans, Chicago Mayor, Lori Lightfoot, has just unveiled three concepts for the redevelopment of Soldier Field. The first, and most impressive, involves enlarging the stands behind the end lines, where four massive columns are to be built to support a huge glass roof covering the auditorium and field. However, the space between the roof and the stands behind the ends of the pitch would remain open. Inside, a circular panoramic screen would be installed, similar to the one at SoFi Stadium, albeit slightly smaller.
The second proposal would also see the stands behind the ends rebuilt and columns created, but the construction of the canopy itself would be postponed. The third, and most economical, concept is to prepare the venue for soccer matches as well as concerts and other non-sporting events.
If one of the first two concepts were implemented, Soldier Field's capacity would increase to 70,000 spectators. There are also plans to increase the number of boxes and food&catering outlets. The upgrade would in addition make it easier to attract sponsors, including a title sponsor for the stadium. The cost of the redevelopment, depending on the option chosen, is estimated to be between $900 million and $2.2 billion.
The goal of the city authorities' initiative appears to be to encourage the Bears to abandon plans to build a new facility and remain at Soldier Field. Mayor Lori Lightfoot is announcing the upgrade regardless of the decision made by the Bears. For now, it is unclear how the investment would be funded. However, the Chicago municipality argues that it will be cheaper for the Bears to stay within the city limits than to build a new facility. Nevertheless, the club maintains that moving out of Soldier Field is already decided.
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