Fire president: Soccer-specific stadium within city limits an option for club

The Fire currently play at Soldier Field, where they are a secondary tenant behind the Bears.

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Aerial view of Soldier Field Sunday, Oct.19, 2014.

Sun-Times file photo

The Bears might be leaving Soldier Field.

The Fire could, too.

During a town hall with fans before Saturday’s 3-2 loss to Charlotte that ended their playoff hopes, team president Ishwara Glassman Chrein said building a soccer-specific stadium within city limits is an option for the Fire. Another option if the Bears bolt for Arlington Heights would be to become Soldier Field’s primary tenant, which could include significant renovations to make the facility more friendly for the Fire.

“We are looking at all of those options,” said Glassman Chrein, who asserted the Fire wouldn’t follow the Bears to the northwest suburbs. “If we do build a soccer-specific stadium we want to be in the city. We want to be the Chicago Fire. We want to be close to you, our fans. Hopefully we’ll be able to share more on that in the coming months, but we’re still looking at those options.”

The idea of a soccer-specific stadium in Chicago would be a major development for the Fire, who are seemingly on the verge of finalizing plans for a state-of-the-art performance center. The Fire leaving would also be a blow to the city government, which is hoping the club would stay and maintain one of the historic stadium’s sports tenants.

Even with owner Joe Mansueto’s money and knowledge of the market, getting the land for a new arena would be difficult, considering how hard it is to find real estate in the right location in the crowded city.

The Fire moved back to the lakefront before the 2020 season and signed an 11-year lease with three three-year segments and two one-year extensions. The first three-year period is up at the end of the season, and it’s possible Glassman Chrein going public with this idea was a leverage ploy to get a better deal with the city for their current lease.

The venue has thrown up challenges to the Fire ever since, though none of the issues are a surprise to seasoned observers.

The playing surface, before it was resodded, has come under scrutiny because of how negatively it can impact play after football games and concerts. And the stadium itself is cavernous and too big for MLS games. Prices at Soldier Field have also been difficult for fans, including $40 for parking that exceeds the cost of many tickets to actually enter the building.

Because of their status behind the Bears, the Fire have been forced to move matches to SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview, including the team’s 25th anniversary game Oct. 9. 

“I think we all have to live with the reality of the fact that Soldier Field is a very busy building,” Glassman Chrein said. “The NFL plays here, there are college football games, there are concerts here. Next year there’s going to be a NASCAR race running right [downtown]. I think the reality of the situation is as long as we and the Bears play here, we are going to have to move two or three games every year to SeatGeek.”

If the Bears leave or the Fire actually get their own stadium in the city, that won’t be a concern.

NOTE: At the same event, sporting director Georg Heitz said the team has given new contracts to Brian Gutierrez and Federico Navarro, and that the Fire will try to bring back Gabriel Slonina on loan next year from Premier League club Chelsea.

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