Museum Campus working group proposes Soldier Field dome and other ideas

But here’s hoping the team’s proposals lead to some solutions that don’t end up burdening taxpayers.

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A new museum campus gateway under DuSable Lake Shore Drive is shown in 1998, when the road was moved and a museum campus was created.

A working group tasked with re-envisioning Museum Campus has issued its final report.

Beth A.KeiserAP

Mayor Lori Lightfoot did the proper thing earlier this year by forming a working group tasked to help plot out Museum Campus’ future.

After all, the 57-acre site has plenty of moving parts to consider as it nears 30 years old, including the aging Soldier Field and the Bears’ future there and Shedd Aquarium’s planned half-billion-dollar make-over announced last January.

But one of the ideas from the working group’s final report, issued Thursday, gives us pause: the no doubt frightfully expensive prospect of expanding Soldier Field and putting a dome atop the stadium.

The group hasn’t come up with a price tag for the Soldier Field improvements or exactly who would pay for them.

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Editorials

This Editorial Board wants the best for the campus, but it stands by what it has already said: Taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay for any more massive, big-ticket work at Soldier Field, especially for the Bears’ benefit — particularly since the city is still on the hook for $440 million in bond payments on the $660 million cost of renovating the stadium for the team in 2003.

A mix of ideas

Some of the working group’s ideas seem solid at this point. It makes sense to turn Solidarity Drive — with its majestic approach to the Adler Planetarium — into a pedestrian plaza, for instance.

And the notion of better transit connections on campus is needed as well.

But building a medium-sized performing arts facility next to Soldier Field? Maybe, but execution — how the thing would look and function in that spot — would be everything.

And the final report seems to rightly sack a committee idea that was pitched in a draft report earlier this week of filling in Burnham Harbor — one of the city’s finest — and replacing it with parking.

Also gone is the draft report’s nutty notion of building aerial gondolas or a monorail floating on the campus, a prospect that seemed recycled from “city of tomorrow”-styled urban planning from the 1960s.

Then there are the Soldier Field ideas. Building a dome atop the stadium’s asymmetrical 2003 addition raises questions of price, with one expert giving us a windshield estimate that approached $1 billion.

And to say nothing of architectural appearance. A new dome on top of a 2003 addition that already sits on a 1924 structure would make the stadium look like a twisted wedding cake.

Lightfoot said her administration seeks to put forth a “compelling economic case” for the Bears to remain at an improved Soldier Field.

“We will release a plan,” she said. “And then, it’ll be up to them to make a decision.”

But given the team has agreed to buy the 326-acre former Arlington International Racecourse with an eye toward building a new stadium there, it looks to us as if a decision might already have been made.

More work needs to be done

If the mayor’s group is still at work, the next step should be figuring out how much all this will cost, and exactly who pays for it.

We also think things could benefit from adding the town’s practicing architects, structure and civil engineers, and urban planners to the group, particularly to better suss out the Soldier Field dome question.

And its also time for the city and the Metropolitan Exposition Authority to get on one accord about the future of Lakeside Center.

The working group’s report says the building could remain in use for every large convention at McCormick Place, but the facility “might also accommodate different types of sporting events, recreational activities, film production, or any number of other potential uses.”

But in a letter to the Sun-Times last week, MPEA CEO Larita Clark said “Lakeside Center’s future is bright; as I have previously alluded to, we plan to solicit ideas for potential redevelopment in the coming months.”

Are the two plans aligned? We wonder. Neither Clark nor her agency are members of the Museum Campus working group.

Still in all, we credit the working group’s desire to swing for the fences in developing new ideas for the Museum Campus.

Now here’s hoping the team’s proposals lead to some solutions on the campus that actually connect without burdening taxpayers.

Want to write a letter to the editor or submit an op-ed for the Sun-Times? See ourguidelines.

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