A flag on the play: Latest Soldier Field plan is a false start on stadium’s future

The proposal doesn’t solve the Bears’ problems with Soldier Field: The team can build bigger in Arlington Heights — and can own and profit from whatever it builds there.

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A rendering shows a revamped Soldier Field with a domed roof.

A rendering shows a revamped Soldier Field with a domed roof.

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A few hours before the start of the Chicago Bears game on Sunday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s stadium consultant released plans showing an amped-up and domed-over Soldier Field.

The Bears ended up losing, falling to the Minnesota Vikings 29-13. But Chicagoans will come up even bigger losers in the long run if the Lightfoot administration — desperate to keep the 3-14 team from building itself a new stadium in Arlington Heights — decides to move forward with Landmark Development’s fevered new plan to revamp Soldier Field.

“Having built a number of NFL stadiums, having built other sports venues … there is not an opportunity in the sports industry in the United States, I would argue, that matches the opportunity here,” Landmark Development President Bob Dunn told Sun-Times reporter David Roeder.

Unlike the Bears offense last Sunday, we’ll pass. The Soldier Field plan manages to pack too much inside the lakefront stadium without addressing two big issues that are prompting the Bears move: (a) The Bears are planning a stadium complex in Arlington Heights that would be substantially larger than Soldier Field, and (b) the team can own and make money from whatever it builds there.

And although Dunn’s latest plan doesn’t include a cost, proposals released last year carried an estimated $2 billion price tag, a cost that taxpayers will almost certainly be asked — wrongly — to bear, one way or another.

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Soldier Field ‘best home for Bears’: city

Dunn envisions the new Soldier Field as a year-round facility that can host football, plus a variety of other events and entertainment experiences. Last year, Lightfoot said the stadium, once revamped, could host the NCAA’s Final Four and the Super Bowl.

But the dome plan only increases seating from 61,500 to “the high 60s,” according to Dunn. Current NFL rules require a Super Bowl host stadium to have a capacity of at least 70,000 seats, although the league will approve temporary seating that allows a venue to reach that number.

Lightfoot’s office released a statement after Dunn’s plans made their rounds.

“The city still believes that Soldier Field is the best home for the Chicago Bears and continues to … explore the future of the stadium,” the statement said.

Not a ringing endorsement. But not a farewell kiss either.

Meanwhile, the Bears — who have a contract to buy the 326-acre former Arlington International Racecourse — again appeared uninterested in the plan.

“The only proposal we are exploring is in Arlington Heights,” said Bears spokesperson Scott Hagel.

Soldier Field, meet One Central

Two issues have concerned this editorial board for the past two years.

First, we’ve feared Lightfoot would either burn through the public treasury or take on massive bond debt to keep the Bears at Soldier Field. Keep in mind taxpayers are still paying for the stadium’s last renovation 20 years ago.

And we’ve been vexed by Bob Dunn’s proposed One Central project, planned for the air rights over the Metra Electric Line, just a stone’s throw west of the stadium.

Dunn has been itching to build a $6.5 billion transit station west of Soldier Field, and he wants the state to ultimately reimburse him for the cost of the facility. It would be a colossal waste of public money, particularly since no agency — from the CTA to Amtrak — has expressed real support, or even a need, for such a station.

“The notion of [the state] forking over that kind of cash should’ve been run out of town on one of those nearby Metra rails when the One Chicago proposal started making the rounds two years ago,” we said in 2021.

But now Soldier Field and One Central appear to be joined at the hip by Dunn, who is working for free as the Lightfoot’s stadium consultant.

The arrangement is pro bono, yes. But cui bono — who benefits?

A possible answer can be found at the beginning of Dunn’s video animation touting the Soldier Field plan. The video begins by showing the renovated stadium, but quickly zooms over to One Central and positions the proposed transit station as a solution to Soldier Field’s transportation problems.

Talk about hubris. We’re not fans of the current Soldier Field plan — and even less so if it’s linked to One Central.

At best, it looks as if Dunn is using Soldier Field to get support for his transit station plan. At worst, it would be like tying an anvil to a millstone in hopes that together they would both float.

Lightfoot would do well to keep the two projects separate.

She’d also do well to reconsider if the Bears, or turning Soldier Field into a sports entertainment center, is truly worth the likely $2 billion cost.

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