Byline: Jim Allen Daily Herald Staff Writer
Mayor Richard M. Daley took the wraps off a $358 million plan to rebuild Soldier Field with a retractable roof, dramatically rewriting his losing game plan to strike a stadium deal with the Bears.
The mayor hoped the move would satisfy all fronts - particularly the Bears and the governor who were briefed on the plan during a closed-door meeting early Friday afternoon.
For Bears President Michael McCaskey, the plan offers additional seating and parking, new transportation links, a grass field friendly to players, plus the option of protecting customers from inclement weather.
Most importantly, it carries a potential annual revenue stream of $30 million or more, something guaranteed by neither the old Soldier Field reconstruction plan nor the "McDome" plan for an enclosed stadium at McCormick Place.
For Gov. Jim Edgar, Daley's new plan would mean abandoning McDome, and instead pouring special taxes on airport cab rides, downtown restaurant meals, car rentals and hotel stays into a project run by the Chicago Park District.
In exchange, the new "Soldier Field House" would meet Edgar's concern that the state only finance a multipurpose, climate-controlled facility that could be used throughout the year. Daley's new plan would allow the "Soldier Field House" to host events like the Super Bowl, the NCAA Final Four and mega-meetings with as many as 72,000 attendees.
What Daley foregoes is his demand for a regional tax he wanted imposed on the suburbs to pay for any new stadium.
For fans, the plan would provide more ways to reach the game, more places to park, maintaining the Soldier Field traditions of tail-gating, and the ability to put away their umbrellas and earmuffs.
In large part, the plan calls for rebuilding almost everything but the famous colonnades.
"Our plan will rebuild Soldier Field with a state-of-the-art, year-round, all-weather facility," Daley said.
"This new stadium will be the envy of the National Football League," the mayor said, predicting it would rank as a "modern convention center and a true Chicago marvel for the 21st Century."
At the same time, it would cost $150 million less than McDome, he said.
Edgar and McCaskey gave measured responses, but they agreed to participate in planning sessions that might operate more as negotiations on the fine print.
Edgar pointed out that this plan "demonstrates the progress we have made," referring to the strong opposition Daley had to building McDome.
"We agree that a multipurpose facility is the goal. We agree that it should be linked to McCormick Place. We agree that revenues approved to expand McCormick Place can and should be utilized without increasing those revenues. We agree that the Chicago Bears should help finance the facility because they will be one of its principal beneficiaries."
Both Edgar and Daley said the recent Meigs Field controversy was not a factor in their stadium discussions. Daley emphasized that his desire to convert Meigs into a park still stands and that there's "nothing personal" in the dispute with Edgar, who has sued to keep the airport open.
McCaskey issued a statement saying, "It's the first we have seen of the plan, and we want to study it further. No commitments have been made, but it's a good first step."
The Bears' lease at Soldier Field expires after the 1999 season, and McCaskey has threatened to leave Chicago after that if the aging stadium isn't replaced.
He said Daley's plan would "create a new place for Bear fans to see Bear football games, a place that would carry us into the next century, and that would be truly multifunctional ... there would be other things that could be done there as well, and help pay for it."
Of course, the plan would mean higher ticket prices, but nobody was offering specifics Friday. …