Lightfoot asks working group to ‘reimagine’ Museum Campus — with or without the Bears
The 23-member group will be chaired by Mesirow Chairman and CEO Richard Price. Former Chicago Plan Commission Chairman Martin Cabrera, CEO of Cabrera Capital, will serve as so-called “athletic facilities lead.”
Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Tuesday asked nearly two dozen prominent Chicagoans to “re-imagine” the 57-acre Museum Campus and recommend ways to “maximize” its year-round benefits — with or without the Chicago Bears.
Ever since the Bears signed an agreement to purchase the 326-acre site of the now-shuttered Arlington International Racecourse for $197.2 million, Lightfoot has sounded almost resigned to moving on at Soldier Field without the team.
With or without the Bears, Lightfoot said she was intent on improving the fan experience at Soldier Field and maximizing year-round revenues.
The 23-member “working group” appointed by the mayor to move the ball over the goal line will be chaired by Mesirow Chairman and CEO Richard Price.
Former Chicago Plan Commission Chairman Martin Cabrera, CEO of Cabrera Capital, will serve as so-called “athletic facilities lead.” Openlands President and CEO Jerry Adelmann will lead discussions on “open space and recreation” issues. Former Cultural Affairs and Special Events Commissioner-turned-Poetry Foundation President Michelle Boone will marshal debate on cultural amenities.
Price and Cabrera could not be reached for comment.
Although the Bears lease at Soldier Field runs until 2033, Friends of the Park Executive Director Juanita Irizarry, another appointee, said she’s assuming “the Bears have already decided to be out the door.”
Irizarry is eager to explore “what can be done to maximize open space in the area between the Museum Campus and Lakeside East,” the oldest and least utilized building at McCormick Place.
“One of our biggest priorities is to remind the city that Mayor Daley made a commitment to move the Soldier Field parking lots to the west side of Lake Shore Drive back when the Museum Campus was created and that commitment was never fulfilled,” Irizarry said.
“We see this as a great opportunity to green that area and make sure there’s not a proliferation of a carnival-like atmosphere along the lakefront.”
Friends of the Parks has already been in discussions with potential casino developers eager to build on or near the lakefront and with the Shedd Aquarium about its ambitious capital plan.
One of the five competing proposals calls for the rebirth of the underutilized Lakeside Center. Another would use the oldest building on the convention center complex as a temporary casino.
Adelmann described Openlands as one of the “advocates and authors” of Chicago’s Lakefront Protection ordinance.
He is dead-set against “new construction, new buildings” within the Museum Campus and determined to create more open space and enhance natural habitats, noting: “Birding is big business.”
Adelmann argued the possibilities for Soldier Field are endless — particularly if the Bears make the move to Arlington Heights.
“It’s an amazing location for cultural and sports events. Are there things that could continue? Should it be transformed? Should the new part of the stadium be removed and go back to the original? There are so many questions,” Adelmann said.
Noting Openlands was “not pleased” with the much-ridiculed renovation of Soldier Field, Adelmann even raised the possibility of maintaining the historic colonnades and turning the seating bowl into an open-air concert venue, akin to the Greek Theater in Los Angeles.
“What a spectacular setting on our lakefront for those kinds of activities — be they sports or cultural,” Adelmann said.
“Who would manage? How would you support it? What kinds of activities? It raises endless questions. But certainly, the reuse of the original Soldier Field, should the Bears leave, is something that would be attractive to many people.”
Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce President Jack Lavin, yet another member, said he is “not assuming the Bears are gone” — and even if they are, investments probably must be made to “maximize the economic opportunity of the entire Museum Campus, of which Soldier Field is a part.”
“What can we do to make it a more valuable sporting venue — whether it’s football or other sports or if we have concerts there? If you put a dome over it, there’s lots of things you could do. You could have a Big Ten football championship. You could have a basketball NCAA tournament. You could have concerts year-round. That’s one option we could look at,” Lavin said.
“When we talk about tourism, people want to see entertainment districts. And the Museum Campus is an entertainment district with the museums, Soldier Field, Northerly Island, the open space and, possibly a casino nearby soon. Every piece of it can add value to the economy of Chicago. … By bringing tourists back. By bringing conventions back. By getting people excited to come back downtown to work, to go to different activities.”