Chicago Bears Traditions

Soldier Field History

Top honors and debut

CHICAGO - A jury of 10 distinguished construction professionals chose the new Soldier Field as Midwest Construction magazine's overall Project of the Year.

The prestigious honor was presented Monday at an awards luncheon at the Renaissance Chicago Hotel.

"There's not a bad seat in the house," the judges said in the December 2003 issue of Midwest Construction. "What they have done in (21) months is amazing."

The sparkling new stadium features two 82-foot-by-23 foot video scoreboards, a three-level Cadillac Club lounge, a Bears' Ring of Honor throughout the mezzanine level, a Bears Den gallery depicting historical events from Soldier Field's past and an open-air courtyard inside Gate 0.

"Our construction team did a remarkable job to make the Lakefront Redevelopment Project a success," said Bears President and CEO Ted Phillips. "The result is a state-of-the-art stadium, and added parking and parkland along Chicago's historical Museum Campus for residents and visitors to enjoy.

"We had superior people working in all phases of the 21-month project and their efforts are appropriately being acknowledged by Midwest Construction. The Bears are proud to be a part of the winning team."

Midwest Construction isn't the first publication to praise the new Soldier Field. The New York Times chose the stadium as the fourth best architecture project of 2003, saying:

"If so many bright people think a building is bad, it must really be bad, right? Not in this case. Extreme sports stadium: that's what we get with Wood & Zapata's dynamic remodeling of an existing stadium in downtown Chicago.

"Clients need to be less fearful of provoking criticism. It is inherently aggressive to move things forward. Those with the courage to do so should not be surprised if they become targets of others' aggression in return."

Soldier Field Makes Debut During 2003 Season

The Chicago Bears returned to the lakefront in 2003 when the team unveiled their new stadium on Sept. 29, 2003 against the Green Bay Packers. That game capped one of the team's greatest off-field achievements with the construction of the lakefront improvement plan which included the new football stadium within the confines of historic Soldier Field. Governor George Ryan ended the Bears 44-year stadium effort on Jan. 5, 2001, by signing House Bill 1284, designed not only to help fund a new stadium but to enhance Chicago's lakefront.

The City of Chicago's Lakefront Improvement Plan was announced publicly by Mayor Richard M. Daley on Nov. 15, 2000. The project replaced parking lots with 17 acres of new parkland, built an underground parking structure to serve the Museum Campus and Soldier Field, created easier access to the Museum Campus and added other amenities giving Chicagoans and tourists the ability to enjoy the lakefront year-round. Bears President and CEO Ted Phillips and his team of experts brought the proposal to the State Capital during the November veto session and answered the questions and concerns of the Illinois General Assembly. After three days of gathering support, the Illinois House and Senate passed Bill 1284 on Nov. 30, 2000, authorizing the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority to issue approximately $406 million in bonds to help finance the $630 million project. The debt service on the bonds were paid from the surplus and projected growth of the existing two percent Chicago local hotel tax plus a local distributive tax and state hotel tax subsidy. The remaining $200 million was contributed by the Chicago Bears, including a $100 million loan from the National Football League.

Demolition and construction began following the final home game of the 2001 season.

The following is a number of facts concerning different elements of the Soldier Field project and the Lakefront Initiative:
Lakefront Improvements

17 Acres of New Lakefront Parkland. The project created approximately 17 acres of additional waterfront parkland for public enjoyment. This green space was programmed for year-round public uses such as a sledding hill, winter garden, a terraced park, an area for outdoor museum exhibits and other features. A playground for hard-surface sports will be built on surface parking lots near McCormick Place. The additional recreation space for Chicago and its visitors will result in the largest lakefront play/education neighborhood in Chicago.

Greatly Expanded Public Parking
  • 2,500 new underground parking spaces immediately adjacent to the Field Museum and Shedd Aquarium.
  • 3,100 outdoor spaces to ensure Chicago‚Äôs great tailgating tradition continues.
Soldier Field Improvements
New Amenities
  • Increased sideline seating from 40% of seats to over 60% -- vastly improved sight lines
  • An increased number of new and improved restrooms
  • More variety and access at over 350 concession points of sale
  • Two state-of-the-art super-sized video boards
  • A distributed sound system to provide crisp, clear sound to every seat
  • A south courtyard setting inside current Gate "O" will provide fans with outdoor concessions in a garden terrace setting
  • A year-round retail store to visitors of the museum campus

A Multi-use Lakefront Wonder. Above and beyond the Bears games, the New Soldier Field will host an increasing number of athletic events, prime concerts, and large civic, cultural and educational gatherings. The unique design will allow for easy stage setup and take down, along with a field that can accommodate both professional and international soccer events.

Year-Round Potential Uses. Development opportunities exist, which could include a Hall of Fame, restaurant and banquet room.

Funding The Lakefront Improvement Plan
  • The Bears made a $224 million contribution, one of the largest ever for a NFL team to a publicly owned stadium
  • The team pays annual rent of $5.7 million, in addition to accepting the cost overrun risks on the project
Preserving History
  • The historic colonnades and historic South Wall remained untouched
  • The historic landmark Soldier Field will be open to the public
  • The new stadium design allows visitors access to the colonnades 365 days a year
  • The Memorial Water Wall honors all soldiers who have served in the United States Armed Forces
  • The Wall serves as an educational piece for families and visitors of the museum campus
  • A Doughboy statue was erected at the entrance of Gate O and the south concourse features a Medal of Honor tribute