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Bears: Is Mayor Lightfoot’s Soldier Field Roof Possible?

Chicago’s mayor, Lori Lightfoot, wants the Chicago Bears to remain in the city. However, with the idea of a roof, is that even a possibility?

Chicago Bears Soldier Field
Photo: Icon Sportswire

As the possibility of the Chicago Bears moving to Arlington Heights grows, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has done a complete 180 on her stance regarding improving Soldier Field. Her initial reaction when the news first broke was:

“In addition, this announcement from the Bears comes in the midst of negotiations for improvements at Soldier Field. This is clearly a negotiating tactic that the Bears have used before. As a season ticket holder and longtime Bears fan, I am committed to keeping the ‘Chicago’ name in our football team.”

“And like most Bears fans, we want the organization to focus on putting a winning team on the field, beating the Packers finally, and being relevant past October. Everything else is just noise…”

– Mayor Lori Lightfoot on the Arlington Heights rumors

Now, it sounds like she has finally come to the realization that losing a franchise worth $4 billion from the Chicago city limits is a bad thing.

The Facts

Lightfoot made a statement last Friday on the status of negotiations with the Bears regarding the possible renovations to Soldier Field. She first commented on the fan experience on the North and East sides of the Museum Campus and said they needed to be improved. All fans can agree this needs dire attention. It is also the most feasible for the city of Chicago This would be a minor renovation, with little disruption to the park space at the lakefront.

Where Lori Lightfoot really captured headlines was when she said, “I think (a roof is) something we have to explore”.

While this could be a political smoke screen, a domed stadium would be a boost to the Chicago economy by extending the stadium’s usage year-round. What hypothetical options do the city of Chicago and the Bears have? While most NFL teams can just reach into owners pockets and plop a billion dollars on the table, the Chicago Bears can’t. Not only does the city of Chicago own Soldier Field, the Chicago Park District also controls the land around it, so only minimal changes can be made. It would be a unique engineering feat if Chicago and the Bears could pull this off.

Experts Say its Not Feasible

A year ago, WGN did a segment on the possibility of a Solider Field roof. The architect of the last renovation, Dirk Lohan, gave some insight. He chuckled and said, “You can always add a building to another building if you have the right amount of money. Technically speaking you can certainly do something like that. It would be extremely expensive because the support columns have to be outside (of the current stadium limits due to fans view during a game).”

The stadium is asymmetrical as the East side is a little lower than the West side. So, to build a mechanism that can cover that up might rival the cost of the stadium itself to get it done. It is simple as “have a lot of money” but again, does the City of Chicago want to spend the billions of dollars needed to do that? It always turns into a political fire storm when tax payer money is being spent.

Roofing Options

What would a domed Soldier Field look like? Looking around the NFL, there are options. Even if the City does pick one of these options, they also need to factor in heating and cooling systems. The Milwaukee Brewers are the nearest domed stadium, but on a hot summer’s day, it is a nightmare to sit inside since the stadium has lack luster cooling systems. Fans need to remember this stadium needs to have year-round use. It needs to be a world-class facility, for world-class events, for a world-class city. This cannot become a continual patch job. Here are some options from around the league.

AT&T Stadium “Retractable Roof”

Photo: Ticketmaster

This option is perfect to control the elements of Chicago weather. It also factors in the width of the current stands. The roof support beams run parallel to the sidelines. A support system with the beams placed perpendicular to the sidelines would most likely be very difficult with how wide the west grandstand opens up. But, with Soldier Field being asymmetrical it would look weird and may not be structurally feasible. It can open and close, but this would have to built with a “building within a building” concept in mind. This would most likely cost over $1 billion for a traditional retractable roof, let alone a special one.

The So-Fi Stadium “Wrapped Canopy”

Photo: Mark Holtzman/West Coast Ariel Photography Inc.

This concept would look cool, but again be very costly and disrupt lots of park space. One huge issue is the ends of this canopy would need to be closed off to keep the Chicago weather out. The LA weather makes this less of a concern. Another issue is how wide that the 400 level grandstand opens up. This canopy would need to be much taller than LA’s. A crazy structural plan or reduction of seats would be required.

The Metrodome “Bubble” (Most Bears Option)

Photo: Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

With the City’s budget, this could be a look that is on the table. If the current stadium can have minimal renovations to fit a cover, it could save hundreds of millions of dollars that the earlier options would require. The roof would not be retractable. This method would just be like putting a Scooby-Doo band-aid on a gunshot wound. It would be a terrible eye sore and far from state of the art. It would be known as the new “mistake by the lake” and become the laughing stock of the United States.

First Soldier Field: How Not to Do a Stadium

All the hypotheticals break down back to one point. The City and the Bears did a terrible job on the early 2000’s renovations. Losing seats for the sake of more luxury suites, failing to preserve historical landmark status, and poor logistics just to be “closer to the players” should be chalked up as a reason to not pursue another crazy renovation. The same two parties who screwed up the last time would be spearheading the even crazier feat. What have they both done to regain fans’ trust? If a new roof is added, since 2000, they would hypothetically have spent near the same amount of money to just tear down the stadium and build a new state-of-the-art one. While at a massive price, the City and Bears can deliver a piecemeal domed stadium, it wouldn’t be the state-of-the-art stadium the NFL’s charter franchise deserves!

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