Full Speed Ahead

With demolition work continuing in the background, the Bears and their construction team joined representatives from the Chicago Park District and Chamber of Commerce recently met at Soldier Field to officially launch the $606 million Lakefront Redevelopment Project.

The plan essentially calls for the gutting of Soldier Field while saving the historic colonnades. A sparkling new stadium featuring two 84-foot-long video scoreboards, 133 suites and 8,600 luxury boxes is scheduled to open at the prime lakefront site on Sept. 28, 2003, the fourth weekend of the NFL season.

"From the beginning, this visionary project has been based on partnership, progress and responsibility," said Bears president and CEO Ted Phillips.

"Partnership with the city, state and park district officials to create the best possible stadium. Progress for the city, state, the lakefront and the Chicago Bears to move forward finally with a state-of-the-art facility that fans and all the people of Chicago can enjoy. And responsibility; the commitment to doing things the right way."

Flanked by dozens of construction workers and welders, Phillips spoke to reporters from behind a podium under the northeast stands. A few hundred feet away, heavy equipment pounded the earth and navigated piles of cement, dirt and rubble where grass once grew.

The entire north end of the stadium has already been leveled, creating a crumbling horseshoe structure resembling the Roman Coliseum.

Crews have worked quickly demolishing Soldier Field, beginning just hours after the Bears' magical season ended Jan. 19 with a playoff loss to the Eagles. The leveling of the Park District headquarters to the north of the site and other infrastructure work began a few months ago.

"As you can see, the work is well underway now," Phillips said . "It started last fall at McFetridge (Drive) and went into high gear as soon as our football season ended.

"I'm thrilled that we were able to honor the Soldier Field legacy this season with an NFC Central Division championship and the first home playoff game at Soldier Field in a decade. Our season provided a few more magical moments to Soldier Field's great history."

Officials discussed the benefits of the project, which include 17 new acres of lakefront parkland featuring a sledding hill, children's garden and a veteran's memorial, an annual $10 million revenue stream for neighborhood park programs, an underground garage for museums, and year-round access to Soldier Field's historic colonnades.

"These benefits will make this corner of the lakefront a more exciting place for children and families to come and spend the day," said Chicago Park District General Superintendent David Doig. "Just as the old Soldier Field embodies memories of many great moments for generations in the past, the new Soldier Field will bring new and lasting memories to future generations."

The stadium is being constructed with retractable seating for soccer games and loading docks to accommodate concerts. The new facility will also continue to host high school and college football games as well as religious festivals.

"When this project is finished, we will have a publicly-owned, modern, multi-use stadium for the people of Chicago," Doig said.

Soldier Field was built in 1924, but the Bears didn't move there permanently until 1971 after playing 50 seasons at Wrigley Field. Several alternative stadium plans and sites were considered, but remaining in an open-air, natural-grass facility on the lakefront was always the ideal solution for the storied franchise and its loyal fans.

"Chicago is the Bears' home," Phillips said. "We value our citizenship here and that is why we are contributing $200 million toward this city-owned project. That is why we're assuming all risk of cost overruns on this project.

"This project is extremely important to the Bears, the city and the state, and we're dedicated to doing it right in a public-private partnership as it has been from the beginning.

"We say goodbye today to an outdated facility and we look forward to a state-of-the-art venue which will open in the fall of 2003 and will carry on the great Soldier Field tradition. We're excited about this project because of what it means to the people of Chicago, the park district, the Bears and our fans.

"When we're finished, there will be no greater sports venue in America. It'll be an outdoor facility on the lakefront, where Bear fans have told us they want to be, overlooking Chicago's majestic skyline."

Phillips said that details concerning Personal Seat Licenses (PSLs) should be mailed to season ticket holders beginning Feb. 11. PSLs are expected to range from $800-$4,000 with an average of about $2,000 for non-club seats. PSLs for club seats will average about $4,000.

While some NFL teams that have instituted similar plans have blanketed nearly all of their season tickets with PSLs, only about 45 percent of the seats in the Bears' new stadium will be subject to PSLs.

"Every seat does not have a PSL; it's one of the unique features of our PSL plan," Phillips said.

All Bears home games next season and in the 2003 preseason will be played at the University of Illinois in Champaign. While two of 11 counts in a legal challenge are still pending, the team doesn't expect any construction interruptions.

"We're very confident in the legal position that's being taken," Phillips said. "The project's going forward. There are no delays anticipated. We have no reason to believe that this project isn't going to be completed on budget and on time."

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