Go away the lakefront? Bears followers have combined feelings on that
For years, Graham Alexa had one of many most cost-effective views at Soldier Area.
He and 40 or 50 mates from Chicago’s South Facet would stand in opposition to a cement wall behind the final row by the colonnades within the outdated stadium and by a piece on the decrease stage close to the north finish zone following the renovation, solely they did not purchase tickets to look at their beloved Bears.
They might scatter into smaller teams exterior and sneak into the sport, Alexa mentioned, then collect at their acquainted spot. The group mainly had a free trip from 2000 to 2009.
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“By no means received caught, apart from as soon as,” Alexa mentioned. “One buddy, Pat McCaskey caught him and threw him in Bears jail within the basement. (McCaskey) mentioned, ‘You might be banned for all times. Come inside 500 ft of the stadium, you’ll be taken to jail.’ My buddy’s response to him was, ‘I’ll see you subsequent weekend on the recreation, Pat.'”
Fond reminiscences, for positive. However in terms of the potential of the Bears leaving their iconic lakefront dwelling for the Chicago suburbs, Alexa is onboard — intestine wrenching because it is perhaps.
The thought has been selecting up steam in current weeks, after the group introduced a bid to buy Arlington Worldwide Racecourse. The thoroughbred observe in Arlington Heights is about 30 miles and a world away from Soldier Area in downtown Chicago, on a 326-acre plot of land owned by Churchill Downs Inc. that’s on the market.
A possible transfer has at the least some followers excited in regards to the prospects even when seeing a founding NFL franchise transfer out of the town it has known as dwelling for a century could be robust. They envision a world-class stadium, perhaps one with a dome or retractable roof that may appeal to Tremendous Bowls and Closing Fours, and are available with out the challenges the present dwelling presents its group and diehard followers.
They see an opportunity for the Bears, established in 1920 because the Decatur Staleys, to personal their dwelling. Since shifting to Chicago in 1921, the franchise has by no means had its identify on the mortgage, whether or not enjoying at Wrigley Area from 1921 to 1970 or Soldier Area since then.
Andy Buchanan, a longtime season ticketholder who lives within the metropolis, known as a attainable transfer to the suburbs “a travesty.” He mentioned it “could be horrible,” but additionally understands why possession is at the least contemplating leaving its dwelling alongside Lake Michigan.
“The within of the stadium is ok,” Buchanan mentioned. “The situation was simply poorly deliberate out.”
The Bears’ lease at Soldier Area runs by 2033. The stadium owned by the Chicago Park District underwent a $690 million transformation in 2002 that pressured the group to play dwelling video games on the College of Illinois in Champaign and finally led to the lack of its Nationwide Historic Landmark designation.
The inside was demolished, changed by a flying saucer-like, glass-dominated construction cantilevered over the well-known Greek and Romanesque colonnades. The conflict of kinds drew widespread criticism, and the renovation diminished seating for Bears video games to 61,500, lowest within the NFL.
“It was a really, very unhappy factor to occur, significantly on the lakefront, which is meant to be sacrosanct,” mentioned David Bahlman, the previous president of Landmarks Illinois, a nonprofit group that promotes historic preservation.
Bahlman fought exhausting to forestall the renovation. The group proposed constructing an 80,000-seat stadium with a retractable roof simply north of the Chicago White Sox ballpark on the South Facet — with easy accessibility to the Dan Ryan Expressway and two “L” strains — and utilizing a restored Soldier Area for soccer, live shows and festivals. They sued to cease the work at Soldier Area, solely to have the state Supreme Courtroom rule in opposition to them.
“It is bittersweet,” mentioned Bahlman, who moved away in 2008 and now lives in North Carolina. “It is discouraging as a result of we advised all of them the the reason why they should not renovate Soldier Area 20 years in the past. They did not hearken to us. And now, they don’t seem to be pleased with the issues we advised them had been poor within the Soldier Area plan.”
The aesthetics aren’t the one factors of competition. Gamers and coaches have criticized the situation of the floor. Getting out and in of the stadium on recreation days will be troublesome. The closest “L” cease is a few mile away.
Whereas Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot reiterated her dedication to preserving the group within the nation’s third largest metropolis, she additionally blasted the bid as a well-known negotiating tactic. The group explored shifting to Arlington Heights within the Seventies and Eighties.
Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes has his arms large open.
“I do suppose the panorama is completely different this time,” he mentioned. “I do suppose the Bears are severe about this potential, rather more so than they had been within the Seventies.”
He talked about the problems at Soldier Area and known as the sale of the Arlington Park website “a once-in-a-lifetime alternative for any developer.” He mentioned with 160 acres for the stadium and related parking, the Bears would have sufficient room to construct eating and leisure venues, resorts and residences or perhaps maintain the racetrack.
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Whereas “Monsters of the Suburbs” may not have the identical ring as “Monsters of the Halfway,” South Sider Todd Justic known as shifting a “no-brainer” for the Bears. He received fed up with Soldier Area and stopped going to video games about three years in the past as a result of it “took us endlessly” to go away the final time he went.
Fred Berglund, whose household has held season tickets because the early Fifties, hopes the Bears keep.
He thought the outdated stadium was “horrible” and enjoys the facilities that got here with the newer facility. He additionally prefers watching within the open air, even late within the season, and has no want for a stadium with a dome or retractable roof. He additionally understands why the McCaskey household house owners would contemplate a transfer.
“They might construct their very own empire,” Berglund mentioned.