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Bear Down Chicago: Will a Dome Get the Team to Stay?

Soldier Field has been the home of the Chicago Bears since 1971. Located near the south side of the city, the venue is known for being the smallest in the NFL with a capacity of 61,500 seats. This number still seems like a lot, however the NFL requires host stadiums for the Super Bowl to have a minimum of 70,000 seats. This means the city of Chicago will never be able to have the opportunity to host the Super Bowl despite the city being one of the largest sports markets in the country.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot has been working hard with city officials for months to develop proposals to convince the Bears to stay. The first involves constructing a dome to enclose the stadium. The second would involve building columns at each end zone to make the stadium “dome ready.” Another option would be modifying the venue in order to make it more of a multipurpose facility easily used for the Chicago Fire, the city’s soccer team, while still “improving flexibility” for other events held at Soldier Field such as football. Essentially, Lightfoot wants Soldier Field to be a stadium that can be easily used year-round. Anyone from the city of Chicago knows how brutal our winters can be, and it can be especially brutal to stand out in winter conditions watching a team that doesn’t have the greatest record (the Bears haven’t won a Super Bowl since 1986).

Additionally, Lightfoot wants to increase seating capacity to meet Super Bowl requirements, increase the number of available suites and quadruple food and beverage space to 200,000 square feet. All of this requires a huge amount of money and poses huge architectural struggles. The lack of plans for additional parking has also been mentioned by several fans, which makes getting to the venue a struggle. On top of all of this, the Bears would have to play at another venue while renovations are being completed, and when said renovation is completed, they still would not own the stadium.

The Bears have already spent $197.2 million on a purchase/sale agreement for the site of a race track in Arlington Heights. It is widely believed the team will dismiss the city’s proposals because of this land acquisition. Additionally, the team would then own whatever venue they construct, meaning all profits would go to them, instead of the majority going to the city of Chicago like they are now.

What we do know is that the Bears will remain playing at Soldier Field until their lease expires at the end of 2033, unless they decide to opt out early in 2026 to go to Arlington Heights. This would be met with a $84 million dollar penalty, which would add onto the costs required to develop and construct a new facility. The Bears have made several statements in regard to their ongoing lease. They say, “As part of our mutual agreement with the seller of that property, we are not pursuing other stadium deals or sites, including renovations to Soldier Field while under contract.” As of right now, the team plans to honor all of their contractual obligations and are committed to fulfilling their Permit Operating Agreement (POA).

As a Chicago resident, I would love to see Soldier Field get a bit of an upgrade. The last time a renovation was completed was in 2003, so it could use an update. I would love to see a historical landmark continue to be used throughout the years, however it is stressful to think about the potential traffic issues a renovation would bring to already busy downtown streets. And, who exactly would be paying for these renovations? Additionally, I can’t see the Bears staying in Chicago if they’ve already spent millions on property in Arlington Heights, unless they can use that property for something along the lines of a training site. All in all, it seems like the organization has already decided to say goodbye to Chicago.

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