Rave Reviews

There was a game day atmosphere at Soldier Field Saturday morning as thousands of eager Bears season ticket holders took advantage of an opportunity to "Meet Their Seats."

For many of these Bears faithful, it was a first look inside a facility that has been both embraced and reviled by a number of the Chicago area's top architectural critics.

"This is fantastic," said Scott Staples of Naperville. "My wife Dawn and I have been fans for years but we never cared much for the old Soldier Field. It was ok, but never particularly comfortable. This new facility is beyond belief."

The Bears organization went all out to provide a festival atmosphere with which to welcome their most avid supporters. The Chicago Children's Choir, several area Armed Forces bands, and the Golden Knights Army parachute team joined Mayor Richard J. Daley, Chicago Park District officials, and Chicago Bears President and CEO Ted Phillips in the official dedication ceremonies which were held outside of Gate O.

"This is a momentous day for the City of Chicago," Mayor Daley said. "The city should be proud of this beautiful facility."

One of the more popular areas with fans was the third level Colonnade Concourse, which runs around the perimeter of the stadium. From this vantagepoint, spectators enjoyed spectacular views of Burnham Harbor, the South Shore, and the city skyline. Many of those in attendance were surprised to find that their original Soldier Field seats had been preserved in a space just south of the East Colonnade.

"This is exactly where I used to watch the games," said Rich Brown of Chicago. "It amazes me that after all of this renovation, this area is just was it was the last time we sat here."

Brown felt that the integration of the historic elements of the former stadium fit in well with the ultra modern atmosphere of the new construction.

"I used to take a look at the renovation as I drove along Lake Shore Drive," Brown said. "It was hard to get any idea what the stadium would be like inside. I must admit that for a time I agreed with all the critics who said that it looked like a spaceship had landed here. Now that I am on the inside, however, I see a state of the art facility that is extremely fan friendly. It's a beautiful sight to see."

For families such as Jill and John Billhorn for Chicago, the new stadium offers much more than pleasing aesthetics.

"We take our three children with us to the games," Jill Billhorn said. "It usually was a pretty difficult thing to do. The concession lines were beyond belief. Often we'd be standing and waiting for a hot dog for the better part of a quarter. It was almost impossible to keep up with the game."

For John Billhorn, standing in seemingly endless bathroom lines in old Soldier Field with his young Bear fans was more than a minor inconvenience.

"I was here with my children, my nephew and my brother in law the day that Walter Payton broke a rushing record. Believe it or not, we had to leave our seats because his child needed to use the restroom. What else could we have done? There were no TVs. We couldn't see a thing. It was impossible to find out what the crowd was cheering about. We couldn't believe that we missed everything. The bathroom situation was the first thing I checked here at the new field. It seems to be much better."

Happily, the Billhorns' traumatic experience is unlikely to be repeated as 2,500 new plumbing fixtures have all but eliminated the need for long uncomfortable waits. The venue also provides family restrooms, two 23' x 82' video boards, and countless state of the art televisions to make it easier for those with tots in tow to stay abreast of game action.

Those with seats in the Club level sections wandered in awe through the enclosed atrium food and beverage service areas. Most seemed quite pleased with the Cadillac Club level menu selections, which include dry rubbed roasted chicken and Andouille sausage.

"They've done a great job here," said Fred Wilson from Skokie. "It's a very comfortable place and the sight lines of the harbor and skyline are wonderful."

The Club's indoor lounge seating sections, designed for those in search of a short break from the outdoors, were also popular.

"I've amazed to see the Cub level fans so happy," said Will Stapleton, a security service worker with Safety Services. "I'm sure as the weather turns colder, these sheltered areas will be used all the time."

Stapleton mentioned that many of those viewing the facility for the first time today marveled at the almost "living room" level of comfort and convenience.

"The people I've talked to in this portion of the stadium tell me that they have never seen anything so beautiful. They are thrilled about everything. What seems to impress fans the most are the level of amenities, the high tech features, the easy access from open to closed areas. They also love the way the old and the new parts of both stadiums have been combined. It's a comfortable fan friendly place to be."

Maureen Dehler of Aurora agrees:

"I've been a Bears fan and a ticket holder for quite a while. I must admit to some skepticism when the plans for this renovation were first announced. It was so hard to tell just what the finished product would be like. I'm here now and all I can say is that this is just fabulous. It exceeds every expectation. I can hardly wait for kickoff on Monday night."

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