Why the Soldier Field Renovations Were a Mistake for the Bears and Chicago

Jason S. Parini@@JasonPariniBRCorrespondent IIMarch 10, 2014

Soldier Field in Chicago is shown Friday, Sept. 24, 2004. A federal parks panel recommended stripping Soldier Field of its landmark status, agreeing that a $660 million renovation destroyed the historic character of the 80-year-old stadium. The National Parks System's Landmarks Committee unanimously backed the July findings of its architectural analysts, who called the changes at the Chicago Bears' home field
NAM Y HUH/Associated Press

If you're going to do something, do it right the first time.

Unfortunately for the city of Chicago and the Chicago Bears, no one ever told them that.

Just ten years removed from the extensive $660 million renovations of the historic stadium, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has already begun to explore the option of altering Soldier Field once again.

Originally constructed in 1924, Soldier Field has been home to the Bears since 1971. Though the capacity has greatly varied over time, its current layout seats only 61,500, making it the smallest stadium in the NFL. Believe it or not, the stadium actually lost 5,000 seats when the Bears and Chicago renovated the landmark in 2003.

Many options were explored for the Bears, including a brand new stadium in suburban Arlington Heights as well as a new stadium just to the south side of Chicago Stadium on the city's West Side. The Bears even went as far as selecting an architect to design a west-side stadium, which would have put three of Chicago's five main sports teams within a few hundred feet of each other.

As early as 1987, Chicago officials as well as the Bears front office agreed that the lakefront would not be the best place for the Bears to play in the future.

Perhaps the Bears should have followed through with their plan to leave the lakefront. Sure, the stadium is a historic landmark. Though after the 2003 renovations were finished, the U.S. government thought the stadium had been changed so much that it was taken off of the National Register of Historic Places.

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Frankly speaking, the current Soldier Field is an architectural mistake. Once a classical Romanesque structure, the stadium now looks as if a giant spaceship landed right in the middle of the playing surface.

The structure itself isn't the only problem with the current state of Soldier Field. Anyone planning on commuting to the stadium for a Bears game is in for a stressful experience.

SoldierFieldParking.com advertises that parking is available at Burnham Harbor and the Adler Planetarium for $50, though prices are subject to change without notice.

Seriously? $50 to park? In the event that 10,000 cars parked at the game, the Bears would make a whopping half a million dollars off of parking alone for one game.

One of the largest selling points in the stadium's original renovation was the pitch that the facility will be a "stadium in a park." Proponents of the idea boasted that the renovations would add 19 acres of park space along the lake. However, other analyses of the plan point out that the actual park space is only half of that.

Yet another reason why the original plan wasn't so great.

The main reason behind Mayor Emanuel's desire to renovate is likely his desire to bid for the 2019 Super Bowl. However, the math simply doesn't add up. Even with the addition of 5,000 new seats, the capacity would still be under the NFL's minimum capacity of 70,000 required to host a Super Bowl.

So let's review.

Phase one: Reduce the overall capacity of Soldier Field while destroying its historic image and forcing it off of the National Register of Historic Places.

Phase two: Decide to bid for a Super Bowl in five years, while adding only half of the seats needed to reach the minimum requirements.

For gosh sakes, what is phase three going to be? Move back to Wrigley Field?

Soldier will never be what it once was thanks to the flying saucer permanently residing in the middle of the classic building. However, it makes no sense to spend the money to "improve" the building if the changes won't meet the requirements that the structure needs.

Mayor Emanuel and the Bears need to work together to make Soldier the best possible stadium for both the fans and team as well as the city as a whole.

Perhaps a retractable roof would have even been a better solution. By choosing the option of a retractable roof and thus an indoor/outdoor facility, the city would possibly be in a better position to host events such as the Super Bowl, college bowl games and even events such as the NCAA Final Four while keeping their home field advantage in the cold weather.

The hosting of any of those events would be a great boost to the economy, and the process of making the stadium capable of hosting those would also be a boost to Chicago's job market.

Ideally, the Bears and Chicago will find a way to expand the stadium without making it even more of an eyesore than it already is.

However, given the fact that the stadium has little space to expand or change, it's unlikely to find a simple and cost-effective solution to the dilemma at hand.

Jason S. Parini can be followed on Twitter: @JasonPariniBR

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