Mayor Lori Lightfoot has announced the formation of a committee to look at projects to reimagine the city’s Museum Campus – with or without the Chicago Bears occupying a portion of the lakefront.
The city’s work in planning the development has been on the table for a while, but with the Bears entering into a purchase agreement to potentially buy Arlington International Racecourse, with the plan to explore the feasibility of building a stadium on the property, urgency is increasing to determine the future of the area around Soldier Field, the Field Museum, the Shedd Aquarium and the Adler Planetarium.
As plans are drawn up for how Chicago will proceed in revitalizing the lakefront site, the mayor says she is leaning on nearly two dozen business and civic leaders for ideas.
“We just need to look at the Museum Campus, and look at Soldier Field, maximize the asset that it is, and try to bring new events the area,” Jack Lavin, president of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, said. “Maybe even put a dome over the stadium.”
The elephant in the room concerns whether or not the Bears will stick around, something that Juanita Irizarry, who heads up the organization Friends of the Parks, says is unlikely, and says that the city should be careful on what it offers to the team to entice them to stay.
“Studies show that when cities give, give and give to sports teams, they often lose,” she said. “The city often loses in terms of the subsidy that the taxpayers bear.”
Irizarry and the group are joining the working committee, and are committed to turning portions of the campus into additional green space.
Trying to implement those goals, along with a proposed casino and any potential changes to Soldier Field, is a delicate balancing act, one that the members of the group are seeking to address while discussions about the future of the Bears on the lakeshore is evaluated.
The Bears currently have a lease at the stadium through 2033, but they could leave if they pay a hefty fee to the city of Chicago.
Meanwhile, negotiations with Arlington Heights are continuing for the Racecourse property, with a deal potentially coming together by the end of the year, the team says.
The working committee that will explore the future of the Museum Campus site plans to meet later this winter to begin their work, according to officials.