Chicago diners love restaurants that offer views of the city’s skyline and lakefront, and a developer hopes that can help fuel a proposal to transform Soldier Field.
As the Bears concluded its season on Sunday, a stadium developer released a six-minute video sharing plans to turn the area around the South Loop football field into a domed year-round entertainment destination anchored by restaurants. The video’s narrator, famed news anchor Bill Kurtis (Anchorman), called it a way to “put the city’s culinary scene on display in a way no other stadium has imagined.”
“Not just for gameday,” Kurtis’s voice booms. “But every day.”
The South Loop isn’t blessed with a ton of restaurants and bars. The video features footage of a glassed-in dining room where customers could eat while looking through the stadium’s colonnades over to the lake and Field Museum. Soldier Field’s location also presents a challenge for commuters. A transit hub for CTA, Metra, and Amtrak is part of the plan.
The Bears have been flirting with moving to Northwest Suburban Arlington Heights, purchasing the land where Arlington International Racetrack once stood. Chicago media gobbled the video up on Sunday calling it a “Hail Mary” to keep the team in the city proper. Many see the Bears’ move to the suburbs as inevitable.
The video features a computer-generated flyby of the reimagined stadium with amenities with placeholder names like “First Down Food Hall” and several bars and clubs. “Food” — along with live entertainment, museums, music, arts, and sports — are listed as “six themed attractions that represent the best of Chicago.” Currently, the stadium’s food brings mixed results, but for customers in premium seats, fans get access to items from renowned chefs like Kevin Hickey of the Duck Inn.
This is where we raise the bar on what urban entertainment means for tomorrow’s fan and tourist,” Kurtis says in the video.
Stadium builder Bob Dunn and his team put together the plan. Dunn, brought in in July by Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration to brainstorm ways to keep the Bears, has built NFL stadiums in Detroit, Green Bay, and Minnesota. He’s also credited with MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, home of the Giants and Jets. The NFL normally hosts Super Bowls in warm-weather sites, but the new stadium impressed officials to allow MetLife to host the event in 2014.
The dream is to bring Super Bowls and other events like an NCAA basketball Final Four to Chicago, but Soldier Field has strikes against it: the cold weather, a lack of amenities, and a small capacity (at around 61,000) compared to other arenas. Renovations and a roof would bring the stadium closer to a 70,000 capacity. More tickets mean more money for event organizers.
Lightfoot’s office has floated $2.2 billion as the cost of redevelopment. As the Sun-Times notes, taxpayers still owe $631.5 million on the 2003 renovations to the stadium. That rehab brought the controversial spaceship rim on the upper deck to the stadium. Taxpayer-funded stadiums have a sordid history in America.
The developer hasn’t reviewed the plan with the Bears, which hinders the chances it will become reality. Chicago restaurant companies are always looking for opportunities, from sports stadiums to museums. As in the case of the Bears’ potential move to the suburbs, it will be interesting to see who gets a chance to be part of the so-called “next generation of sports and entertainment venues.”