Even though there was a noticeable buzz surrounding the Bears’ town hall meeting in Arlington Heights to discuss the team’s plans should it finalize its purchase of Arlington Park, Chairman George McCaskey, and President Ted Phillips were insistent on not discussing stadium details. There were no plans, no renderings, and no models. Therefore, there wasn’t much to talk about.
And yet, Phillips let one notable nugget slip:
Say goodbye to “Bear Weather” and hello to a climate-controlled indoor facility!
Phillips declaring the Bears weren’t planning on a retractable roof was met with mixed reactions from the crowd in attendance. However, my ears definitely caught the audible snickering. Closing the door on a retractable roof means the Bears’ Arlington Heights stadium won’t have a snow game or a Fog Bowl re-enactment. Darn! But on the other hand, putting a roof on the thing has the Bears hoping they can attract College Football Playoff games, concerts, an NCAA Tournament Final Four, and the Super Bowl.
In other words, let’s not think about this as a football stadium. Instead, let’s see it for what the Bears seem to plan on it being — a year-long destination events center and multi-purpose property.
Even still … why no retractable roof?
Phillips cited prohibitive costs as a reason the team was opting against a retractable roof. I can sense your eyes rolling from here. But let it be known that costs aren’t limited to building a roof. We should also consider maintenance and operations costs. I’m not an architect. But you don’t need to be one to understand that upkeep on a retractable dome in a place like Chicago, where you can experience the extremities of all four seasons (sometimes even in the same week!), will be more costly than in more moderate climates (such as Atlanta or Dallas). In other words, I understand why the Bears are opting for a permanent roof structure instead of a retractable alternative.
As for what an enclosed roof could look like for the Bears, I have some ideas. And it’s worth noting that the team has a variety of options. That’s important, too. During the meeting, Phillips referred to U.S. Bank Stadium. The Minnesota Vikings home has a clear glass roof that allows for a ton of natural light. And with the Bears consulting the designers behind the Raiders’ new stadium, we shouldn’t rule out the ETFE roof as an option. The unique roof was a point of discussion in Bullets after I took the Allegiant Stadium tour. And I’d encourage you to read more from the designers here. But for now, how about an excerpt:
The initial design concept; futuristic visual approaches with a transparent ETFE roof, of this scale, had never been constructed before. The design team was initially met with a big challenge. There were non-negotiable terms that the Raiders would always play on natural turf. But, the hot desert sun also needed to be shielded from the fans and players inside the stadium. Light transparency needed to be controlled with a very unique ETFE system. But, that didn’t help with the amount of light that would be needed to grow and maintain the turf, it would have in fact done the opposite. In the end, the decision was made to have a retractable turf field. This would ensure the comfort of the fans in the hot Las Vegas climate.
To frame it differently, we should stop thinking about domes as making stadiums dark and dingy. Ya know, like the Lions’ Ford Field? And instead, we should begin envisioning a Bears stadium dome that offers natural light while shielding fans from the elements. How it will look at the end of the day remains to be seen. Remember, they’re only in the opening stages of this process. The Bears still need to close on the purchase of Arlington Park before it can fully get the ball rolling. But that the team is already openly discussing its stadium’s future roof tells us they’re further along than they were leading on in the meeting.