Hard at Work

A number of former Chicago Bears players and 750 construction workers gathered for an informal barbecue at the Soldier Field reconstruction site on Friday, June 14. Workers had the chance to get autographs and to chat with the players while the players toured the construction zone.

"This is a great opportunity to show all of the workers here that their efforts are appreciated," said Barnaby Dinges, Director of Communications for the Lakefront Redevelopment Project. "The amount of work that has already been done to the site is awe inspiring."

The renovation of historic Soldier Field and the surrounding areas has been underway since January. At present, the interior of the former stadium has been dismantled. The framework for the new structure is being erected within the confines of the old facility.

"The end result will be a state of the art sports and entertainment stadium with expanded parking lots and 17 acres of unique lakefront parkland. There will be a children's playground, a sledding hill, and a hard surface sports area. The colonnades will remain and will be open and accessible to the public year round," Dinges said.

The $606 million project has a target date for completion in late September of 2003. Between now and then, 13,000 tons of steel, 40,000 cubic yards of concrete, 10 miles of railing, 300,miles of electrical cable will be used. The new stadium will have 61,500 seats and 3,300 underground parking spaces.

Soldier Field will retain its name. The nation's veterans will be honored by a dramatic new memorial to be located at the north end of the stadium, and by a Doughboy statue to be placed at Gate O.

Although, the idea of playing home games away from Chicago presents the challenge the team should be able to overcome it.

"I don't think that losing the chance to have home games in Chicago this coming season will be much of a factor," said former Bear Tom Waddle. The players definitely want a new facility. They know that to get one, this demolition and reconstruction has to happen first. In a way, a temporary relocation of the home field will give the team a fresh start and a chance to be very focused."

Like many other present and former players, Waddle felt that the time was right for a new football facility.

"This project is long overdue," Waddle said. "This team has to stay competitive. There is a definite psychological edge when you nave a nice stadium. Who wants to be the only competitor in the NFL with a home field that is not up to current NFL norms? This effort makes the players feel that the organization cares and intends to dedicate itself to doing what it takes to win,"

Former Bear Jim Morrissey enjoyed his bird's eye view of the reconstruction process from underneath the colonnade area.

"This is great," he said. "It's so much more comprehensive than I had imagined. When I first read about the project, I hadn't realized that he entire north wall of the stadium was going to be removed Everything has been stripped down to the bare bones and now the new structure is starting to take shape. It's really exciting. These workers have done an incredible job."

Bears great Dan Hampton, who will be inducted into the NFL Pro Football Hall of Fame in August, felt that the renovation of Soldier Field was a fitting tribute to George Halas and his pivotal role in the early days of professional football.

"Frankly, it's embarrassing to play in a run down stadium," Hampton said. "It just shows a lack of respect for the game and the players. The Bears are an established team with a long history behind them. There wouldn't be an NFL without George Halas. This is a new beginning. It honors Halas' memory and also reminds us of all the great players who have been with the Bears over the years. Hopefully this will be the start of a new football dynasty."

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