DOWNTOWN — A special city committee is poised to recommend putting a dome over Soldier Field to keep the Chicago Bears from bolting to Arlington Heights, according to a published report Mayor Lori Lightfoot would only say was “premature” to publicly discuss.
Lightfoot’s special committee, the Museum Campus Working Group, is prepared to release a report that suggests a dome could keep the Bears in Chicago, according to Greg Hinz of Crain’s.
Capping the lakefront stadium could cost up to $1.5 billion, Crain’s reported, citing sources. A draft of the report, which could be released Thursday, says the dome “almost certainly” will require taxpayer subsidies, Crain’s reported.
But the mayor wasn’t ready Wednesday to get into the details, telling reporters she had not yet “formally” received the working group’s report.
“It’s premature for me to talk about any aspect of it because I have not formally received their report yet,” Lightfoot said at an unrelated press conference.
She praised the “tremendous and innovative” work of the committee, and said it studied not just how to keep the Bears in town, but how to “maximize the visitor experience on our iconic lakefront.”
The working group’s proposal also explores the idea of rebuilding parts of the stadium and selling naming rights, the report said.
Lightfoot pledged the city will present an “extraordinarily compelling economic case that it makes no sense to do anything else but stay in the city.”
“We’re going to do everything we can to get them here but the choice is going to be theirs,” Lightfoot said. “We’ve obviously got to make sure that this is a tier one stadium opportunity for the Bears to maximize their revenues.”
A spokesperson for the team declined to comment if they had been in talks with the city about the stadium’s proposed upgrades.
“At this time, we don’t have any feedback. … We are continuing our due diligence on the Arlington Park property,” Scott Hagel, senior vice president of marketing and communications for the Bears, said in an email.
Soldier Field was last overhauled in 2002 when a modern seating bowl was built inside the original stadium’s existing footprint. At 61,500 seats, it has the smallest capacity of any NFL stadium. And because the team is a tenant of the Chicago Park District, it has to pay rent and split revenues other NFL teams keep for themselves.
The Bears’ lease runs through 2033, but the team could break it in 2026 by paying an $84 million penalty to the city, the Tribune has reported. That price tag goes down in future years.
In September, the team inked a purchase agreement for the sprawling 326-acre site that holds the newly closed Arlington Park racetrack in northwest suburban Arlington Heights. The deal has not closed, however, leaving the city a chance to negotiate a new deal.
Last year, Lightfoot said the Bears should “focus on putting a winning team on the field, beating the Packers finally and being relevant past October” instead of threatening to leave the city.
But she’s also remained consistent about saying the city will make a run at them.
“They are the Chicago Bears,” she said Wednesday. “I’m a longterm ticket holder. We want the Chicago Bears to stay in the city of Chicago and we’re going to do everything we to get keep them here. But the choice is going to be theirs.”
The mayor also said the working group is looking at changes to “really enhance experience on a year-round basis and not just thinking about 10 homes games for the Bears.”
Other parts of the proposal obtained by Crain’s suggest holding the world’s largest “Kris Kringle Market” on campus, hosting a winter Igloo festival, creating a hotel site and more.
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