Chicago Bears and Chicago Park District have tough relationship with Soldier Field

In contrast, the roots of the Halas family, owners of the Bears, were in football when football was not so profitable. During the 1960s, the Bears were tenants and junior partners of the Cubs at Wrigley Field, where there was not enough room to provide two standard size end zones. The team’s move to Soldier Field in 1971 was seen as a stopgap until a state-funded municipal stadium was ready.

Because Soldier Field was not designed as a football stadium, less than 20% of the seats were between the goal lines and none were so close to the pitch. The Bears signed a three-year lease with two one-year options, and the owner of Soldier Field, the Chicago Park District, contributed $ 700,000 to install synthetic turf and improve seating and other amenities.

However, the Bears were still renters and they would stay behind the stadium building curve for generations, in part because this is Chicago.

Not having the means to undertake to develop a stadium project on its own, the Halas family depended on the goodwill of the town hall. This evaporated when word got out in 1975 that the team was considering a proposal in Arlington Heights. Mayor Richard J. Daley, the boss just returned for a sixth term, said, “They can use the name Arlington Heights Bears, but they’ll never use the Chicago name if I’m the mayor.”

Over the next several years, as the team considered scheduling games at Northwestern University’s Dyche Stadium, Comiskey Park, and even Notre Dame Stadium, the Bears, City Hall, and the Park District continued their relationship. delicate. The Bears signed a 20-year lease in 1980, with the Park District agreeing to preventative maintenance and some upgrades, including new headquarters closer to the field in the North Zone. The team agreed to fund 54 skybox suites at a cost of $ 2.8 million.

By this time, Mayor Daley was deceased, as was George Halas’ son and heir apparent, George Jr., known as Mugs. After Halas Sr. passed away in 1983, his grandson, George McCaskey, a Harvard-trained MBA, became CEO. And then, of course, another Daley — Richard M. — became mayor in 1989.

The stage was set for another Bears-City Hall, personality-driven dead end.

With the looming expiration of the Soldier Field lease and after the Illinois General Assembly rejected a $ 300 million domed stadium proposal (nicknamed McDome) as part of a bill to he expansion of McCormick Place, in 1995 McCaskey offered an open-air stadium. Illinois taxpayers would pay two-thirds of the expected cost of $ 285 million. He didn’t fly, especially with Jim Edgar as governor.

At the same time, the Bears were looking for leverage on multiple fronts, which Daley didn’t like. The team launched four potential sites near O’Hare, in Hoffman Estates and in the western suburbs. A real plan came from a group of Hoosiers who showcased a $ 482 million resort with restaurants, entertainment attractions, and a Bear Hall of Fame in Gary, Indiana.

Daley responded with a $ 171 million renovation plan for Soldier Field and promises of new revenue streams for the Bears, which the team rejected.

Then, in 1999, after another Bears suburban sham, Edgar was replaced as governor by the more Chord-friendly and Daley-friendly George Ryan, and McCaskey was fired by his own mother, the team president. Virginia McCaskey. Ted Phillips took over as CEO, and things started to move.

In the late 2000s, the parties agreed on the controversial design that prevailed: a seat bowl falling to the top of the original structure, spilling out from the colonnaded sides.

“I’m glad that after years of false starts we finally have a plan that works for the taxpayers, the Park District, the Bears and the rest of the team,” Daley said.

How this plan worked has been a source of debate among fans, government watchers and taxpayers.

“As many people are denouncing the changes in the historical structure,” says Liam Ford, author of “Soldier Field: A Stadium and Its City”, “it’s still standing only because of the Bears”.

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