Over the offseason, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot got her jokes in when chatter surrounding the Bears’ possible move to Arlington Heights was a story. But it doesn’t sound like she is laughing any more.
Mayor Lightfoot said she wants to keep the Bears in Chicago, expressing a willingness to work with the team to expand and improve Soldier Field while also maxing out stadium revenues, per the Daily Herald. This is a stark contrast from the light-hearted manner in which she replied to news about the Bears bidding on the Arlington International Racecourse property, a potential new site for a future suburban home hosting Chicago’s football team. But it also comes in the wake of a report from WBEZ’s Tony Arnold, which unearths the Bears beefing with the park district over the addition of a sports betting lounge at Soldier Field.
Arnold’s report shares Bears President Ted Phillips’ pitch for a sports betting lounge at Soldier Field was rebuffed by Chicago Park District Superintendent Michael Kelly, who said “it would not be productive to pursue the opportunities in your letter. Phillips would go on to accuse the Park District of refusing “to engage in good faith discussions” about the matter. That all of this has a connection to the Bears’ bid to buy Arlington International Racecourse makes this all the more juicy of a storyline.
As does this, via the Sun-Times:
Plan to keep the Bears in Chicago complicated by constraints of Soldier Field https://t.co/OpHa5xsNeY
— Sun-Times Sports (@suntimes_sports) September 23, 2021
So, in addition to tensions between the Bears, the city, and the Park District, there are tangible complications that present a hurdle to the team staying at Soldier Field. Because in order to keep the Bears at Soldier Field, renovations and modernizations need to happen. And it would start with the expansion of a stadium with the lowest seating capacity in the NFL.
Hey, that’s a great start. More seats. Newer seats. And more fans spending money on and at games could help bridge a financial gap. But citing architects, there are real challenges here.
“Do you have to remove the old colonnades, for instance? Chicago would not stand for damaging or changing the historic architecture. It’s a monument to the soldiers of World War I,” Chicago architect Dirk Lohan told the Sun-Times. Lohan was among those who was working on the Soldier Field renovations in the early 2000s.
An engineer, who requested and was granted anonymity, added: “I don’t see how you can add a whole lot of seats. … The easiest places to add them are in the end zones, and those aren’t the best seats.” Also worth noting in this vein is that Lohan added that constructing areas for the most desirable new seats that could come with a new renovation is challenging because of the restrictions that come with bordering roads. All in all, it seems like a mess. But one the city will need to clean up if it is serious about making an honest-to-goodness pitch to keep the Bears in Chicago.
With Justin Fields set to make his first start with the Bears on Sunday, it is hard to focus on a stadium deal that might be years from formulating. And yet, because we’re talking about a billion dollar entity in the Bears and a possible monumental move, we’ll keep in touch with this story as details develop. I’m sure this isn’t the last we’ll hear about it.