SOUTH LOOP — A translucent glass dome, expanded club seating and a “pedestrian circulator” could all be features of a newly-renovated Soldier Field, detailed in a nearly six-minute video that a real estate developer released over the weekend as part of a Hail Mary attempt to keep the Bears from absconding to Arlington Heights.
Narrated in the silky baritone of former Chicago news anchor Bill Kurtis, the glitzy video provides a virtual tour showcasing the grandest ambitions of a Soldier Field redesign, replete with a bustling entertainment district, a concourse renovation and a domed, glass ceiling supported by two large columns behind each end-zone.
The stadium’s iconic colonnade would remain — albeit with food and beverage booths between columns. Sliding glass walls on the north end zone would open to showcase the Field Museum, Grant Park and the city skyline in the distance.
According to a press release accompanying the video, the new stadium would increase capacity from 61,500 to 70,000 seats, increase private suites from 133 to 140 and quadruple food and beverage amenities from 50,000 square feet to 200,000 square feet — all of which have become major complaints about the current stadium as the team considers a move to the suburbs.
Watch the video here:
The video was released by Landmark Development, a real estate development company based in Madison, Wisconsin that has recently led projects to build domed football stadiums in Minneapolis and Detroit, as well as renovate Lambeau Field in Green Bay.
“Soldier Field is uniquely situated to anchor a truly world-class sports, retail, culinary, and entertainment district,” Bob Dunn, president of Landmark Development, said in a press release. “There is no comparable location to take advantage of all key trends of the future — at the heart of one of the world’s most exciting cities. Chicago deserves an extraordinary vision to take this iconic public asset into the next hundred years and beyond.”
The video comes as the Chicago Bears remain poised to complete a purchase-and-sale agreement the team signed in September 2021 to buy Arlington International Racecourse from Churchill Downs for $197 million. Team officials have said they plan to develop the 326-acre site into an entertainment district, anchored by a domed stadium of its own.
The approximately $5 billion project would require some form of taxpayer funding, team officials have said.
In a statement Monday, a team spokesman said the Bears remain committed to the Arlington Heights plan.
“The only potential project the Chicago Bears are exploring for a new stadium development is Arlington Park,” the statement said. “As part of our mutual agreement with the seller of that property, we are not pursuing alternative stadium deals or sites, including renovations to Soldier Field, while we are under contract.”
The Bears’ decision to buy land in the suburbs has initiated its own tit-for-tat between the team and the city, as the two sides jockey for position off the field while the team flounders on it. The Bears finished their season Sunday in last place, losing to the Minnesota Vikings but securing the number one pick in the NFL Draft.
After the Bears announced their plans to buy the land in Arlington Heights in 2021, the city held a press conference saying it wanted to keep the team in Chicago and released renderings for a redesign of its lakefront Museum Campus that included about $2.2 billion in stadium renovations.
But the team fired back, saying it remained committed to building its own domed stadium in the suburbs. In a 2022 press conference, developers for the team extensively quoted Chicago architect and civic planner Daniel Burnham as they pitched fans on its proposed move out of the city he helped design.
In its video Sunday, Landmark Development also said it intended to “make no little plans,” invoking Burnham’s grandiose vision as it described the proposed dome and surrounding development, which the video calls “the most dynamic entertainment district anywhere on the globe.”
And in its closing moments, the video also takes a not-so-subtle shot at the proposed move to Arlington Heights, advocating for a renovation rather than a relocation.
“Unlike other cities, we don’t walk away from our most storied and iconic assets,” the video states. “We build on our history and make it the foundation of our future.”
In a statement Monday, a spokesperson from Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office said the mayor supports the effort from Landmark Development.
“The City still believes that Soldier Field is the best home for the Chicago Bears and continues to engage with community partners and members of the Museum Campus Working Group to explore the future of the stadium,” the statement said.
Landmark is also spearheading a proposed $3.8-billion-dollar mixed-use development called ONE Central at a nearby rail yard across DuSable Lake Shore Drive. The video featured ONE Central as a transportation hub near the renovated stadium.
A spokesman for Landmark said Monday no taxpayer dollars went into the production of the video, and the city was not involved in its creation. The spokesman declined to provide the cost of the video or stadium renovations but said they would be about $1.5 billion cheaper than building a new stadium from the ground up.
The video did not specify how the Soldier Field renovation would be funded.
The Chicago Bears have played at Soldier Field since 1971, after they moved to the lakefront from their former home in Wrigley Field. The stadium, which is owned by the Chicago Park District, underwent a major redesign in 2001 that cost approximately $690 million, $430 million of which was funded by public dollars.
But even after the renovation, Soldier Field remained the smallest capacity stadium in the NFL — an issue Bears leadership has said hamstrings the team.
The Bears have a lease to play at the field through 2033, but the Tribune reported showed the team can break the lease early by paying a penalty of approximately $84 million. The Tribune has reported the team is poised to finalize its purchase-and-sale agreement in early 2023.
In the meantime, Bears fans are left to watch from the sidelines as the team’s future remains in limbo, and the prospect of staying in the city remains a long shot.
Along with the dome and entertainment district, the video also showed what a potential redesign of the stadium’s Veterans Memorial would look like, the inclusion of a “sports book,” as well as a “Skyline Club” to put the city’s culinary and cultural heritage on display.
The name of the club’s bar? The “Hail Mary.”
Listen to “It’s All Good: A Block Club Chicago Podcast”: