Advising the Lightfoot administration on how to fix up Soldier Field to keep the Bears in Chicago, prolific stadium builder Bob Dunn released detailed plans Sunday to transform the isolated stadium into year-round commercial and entertainment. Center, which will be served by a transit station. His goal of a residential expansion on the Near South Side.

Dunn estimated that the proposal for Dome Soldier Field, working within its existing footprint, would save the Bears at least $1 billion in construction costs in Arlington Heights, where the team has a contract to purchase land.

Dunn, president of Landmark Development, said the proposed new Soldier Field and surrounding activity would fatten the city’s tax coffers while giving the Bears and the team’s fans a facility that would be among the top for NFL teams.

His credentials include appearances at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey and every stadium for the Bears’ rivals in the NFC North division.

In an interview, he offered images that promised that Soldier Field’s design, which has been compared to a crashed spaceship, could become something exciting.

“Has built several NFL stadiums, built other sports venues … built Lambeau Field, which is consistently ranked by fans as one of the top buildings in all of sports, taking that building And then turning it into what it has become, there is no opportunity in the sports industry in the United States, I would argue, that matches the opportunity here,” Dunn said.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot brought on Dunn last July to help with her effort to keep the bears in Chicago. He said he was not paid for the role, that he developed the plans at Landmark Developments’ expense. He scheduled the release of his plan for the Bears’ final game of the season.

He describes his approach via a website, www.reimaginesoldierfield.comIncluding a video narrated by former TV news anchor Bill Curtis.

A rendering showing how the Colonies of Soldier Field could be incorporated into the improvements.

Dunn said he has not reviewed the plan with the Bears.

Team officials have that they are sticking to a contractual obligation and are talking only with Arlington Heights officials about what they can build on the former site of the Arlington Park racetrack. The Bears have a contract to buy 326 acres for $197.2 million, but could opt out of the deal.

The Lightfoot administration has estimated that Soldier Field redevelopment, dome and all, could cost $2.2 billion.

Dunn’s plan included a glassed-in north wall that he said could be opened depending on the weather. The stadium’s capacity could be in the “high-60s”, compared to the current 61,500 seats.

City officials last year promised a feasibility study of public funding options but have provided no update.

The funding will certainly be controversial because of the potential impact on taxpayers and the still unpaid debt from the 2003 renovation of Soldier Field. The Illinois Sports Facilities Authority, which handles the debt, said the outstanding balance on the notes due by 2032 is $631.5 million.

The End Zone Club under proposal for a modified Soldier Field.

The End Zone Club under proposal for a modified Soldier Field.

Dunn said the city’s $2.2 billion cost estimate was reasonable but that inflation and rising interest rates would inevitably affect the project. He would not discuss taxpayer funding.

He predicted that Arlington Heights would cost far more and deliver less to the team and taxpayers.

Soldier Field is attracted by a central area that receives 50 million visitors a year, with 100 million vehicles passing through du Sable Lake Shore Drive per year.

“Those are Disney-like numbers,” Dunn said.

Arlington Heights, he said, could attract eight to 12 million annual visitors.

Dunn said the city and the Bears could work out new revenue-sharing deals covering parking, concessions, corporate sponsorships and other income sources.

“You have to have a different revenue mix,” he said. “It can be resolved. It has been resolved in many markets across the country.

The Lightfoot administration responded to questions about Dunn’s plan with a written statement that did not provide any new details of public funding options.

“Mayor Lightfoot has been vocal about the need to re-imagine the experience at Soldier Field,” the statement said. “The City still believes that Soldier Field is the best home for the Chicago Bears and . . . explore the future of the stadium.

With less than two months before the mayoral election, Dunn’s extended presentation could be seen as a move to boost Lightfoot’s prospects by demonstrating his commitment to the lakefront property. Dunn said his concern is planning, not politics.

He said, “we have to have a vision here for the future of Soldier Field” whether the Bears move or not. “I think any administration would view it very favorably.”

Scott Heigl, senior vice president of marketing and communications for the Bears, stuck with the club’s recent statements regarding stadium matters, saying, “The only proposal we’re exploring is in Arlington Heights.”

In Dunn’s outline, Soldier Field would retain its name and its tradition of honoring veterans, with a memorial to the armed forces within the building. Its colonnades would remain in place, but the space around them would be activated with shops and perhaps a food hall.

His plan called for a concert stage to the north of the arena near the Field Museum.

A view of the concert stage that may have been adjacent to Soldier Field.

A view of the concert stage that may have been adjacent to Soldier Field.

Dunn said the dome would be supported by four pillars added near the end zone, a prime opportunity for corporate sponsorships. Construction in the now dead space around the stand, he said, would eliminate the current tight crowding.

He said the project may take three to four years to complete.

There are two main concepts of proposition.

One is that costs can be reduced by using 70% of the existing stadium structure, including the seating bowl, which Dunn said provides an intimate view of the games.

The other assumption is that he could change the way fans go to Soldier Field. Most now drive, but Dunn said that, with a transit connection next to the stadium, 40% of the crowd could arrive by rail, comparing game-day commuting patterns to Wrigley Field.

The transit hub is a clue to Dunn’s vested interest in helping Soldier Field. It is a major part of his plan for a megadevelopment of nine high-rise buildings to be built on the Metra tracks west of the stadium. The plan is called One Central and as previously reported, it could cost $20 billion and include more than 9,000 residences.

One Central needs that transit station — which is seen as the junction of the CTA, Metra and Amtrak — to transport people to buildings of the future. But its cost has been estimated at $6.5 billion. Dunn promised to fund the construction provided the state reimbursed him with sales taxes resulting from the development.

Critics have described public liability as risky. The state has ordered a feasibility study of the transit hub but Dunn has reserved any decision on whether to move forward.

He still needed city zoning approval to build One Central, and his original plan drew fire from nearby residents and some politicians. Much of the protest centers on density and access to the site.

Dunn said the plan could be scaled down.

“I think it’s fair to say that we’ve learned a lot, and I think we’ll be able to demonstrate that what we’ve learned, we’ve made some significant improvements to the plan.”

Developer Bob Dunn discusses how a transit hub could improve access to Soldier Field.

Developer Bob Dunn discusses how a transit hub could improve access to Soldier Field.

Soldier_field_overall.png

A rendering of the overall appearance of the proposed Soldier Field.



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