The odds the Chicago Bears may leave legendary Soldier Field just increased quite a bit.
According to a September 22 report by Fran Spielman and David Roeder of The Chicago Sun-Times, the Bears would like to have a major stadium akin to the one the Los Angeles Rams and Chargers got when they built SoFi. The team wants more seating, and it also wouldn’t mind a retractable roof — which is a problem for Soldier Field specifically. A 2003 renovation to the Bears’ home stadium left it virtually unable to accommodate such requirements.
“Two architects who worked on the $660 million renovation — which won’t be paid off until 2032 — said only modest expansion is possible at the 61,500-seat stadium. And a retractable roof would be architecturally challenging, if not impossible,” Spielman and Roeder reported.
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Current Limitations at Soldier Field May Influence Bears’ Decision
Spielman and Roeder noted that “a new stadium in Arlington Heights surely would cost $1 billion or more, but the development and financial possibilities for the Bears would be endless. Contrast that to the financial and operational girdle they wear at Soldier Field, and the move to the suburbs must be viewed as a very real possibility.”
In a subsequent report on September 24, The Sun-Times revealed more details about why what the Bears want in a new stadium may not be possible by renovating their current one.
Experts believe the team wants a venue with substantially expanded seating and possibly a dome, but making those types of changes to Soldier Field would be structurally impossible, prohibitively expensive and politically difficult — or a mix of all three. … Covering Soldier Field, particularly with a retractable lid, would be a tall, expensive order. Dirk Lohan, the architect who led the $660 million Soldier Field renovation in 2003, told us that ‘anything is possible for money,’ but it won’t ‘come easy’ because Soldier Field is ‘not laid out to receive a roof.’ Lohan said the 2003 rebuild of Soldier Field, which essentially placed a new stadium within — and bulging out the top of — the old venue means the stadium is essentially a mix of two structures.
Soldier Field currently has a 61,500-seat capacity, which is the smallest in the league. Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot is doing everything in her power to encourage the Bears to stay, however.
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Mayor Lightfoot Motivated to ‘Enhance the Fan Experience at Soldier Field
Per The Sun-Times, “Lightfoot, after initially dismissing the Bears nod toward Arlington Heights, told the Sun-Times editorial board last week that her team is ‘evaluating ways in which we can enhance the fan experience at Soldier Field.'”
In order to do that, Lightfoot is apparently considering including Soldier Field as part of Chicago’s Museum Campus, a 57-acre park on Lake Michigan. If the city approaches renovations that way, the Bears may get a few things they’ve been asking for, including increased capacity and more potential areas to grow revenue.
“During the Sun-Times editorial board meeting last week, Lightfoot hinted that she is looking at Soldier Field as an integral part of the Museum Campus, rather than as a stand-alone entity,” The Sun-Times reported. “This is a good move. Because if Soldier Field is showing its age, programmatically, almost 20 years after its renovation, then the nearly 25-year-old Museum Campus also needs a refresh, including the possibility of a restaurant and better public transportation access.”
Even if Lightfoot makes a great pitch, it seems likely the Bears will continue to pursue their bid to purchase the Arlington Heights racetrack. The structural limitations of Soldier Field prevent the stadium from reaching the capacity of a venue like SoFi, which seats 70,000, even after renovations. Couple that with the Bears’ desire to add a sports betting lounge — which the Park District had refused — and it’s looking like the team could be on the move in what might be as early as 2026, which is when it becomes fiscally manageable to break their lease at Soldier Field.