SBJ/October 5 - 11, 1998/No Topic Name

Village wary of Bears' plans for new stadium

Will the Chicago Bears ever deliver on threats to leave Soldier Field for more profitable suburban pastures?

An answer probably will come at the end of the month, when the team must meet a deadline to tie up options on a 70-acre site in Elk Grove Village, about 20 miles northwest of downtown Chicago. The Bears are considering building a new stadium and conference center there that would replace 66,000-seat Soldier Field, where, the Bears say, they have been saddled with an unfavorable lease that expires in January 2000.

The Bears have been mum on their land negotiations and did not return calls, but already, there are community groups looking to squash the team's plans. Elk Grove Village leaders aren't embracing Bears owner Michael McCaskey with open arms either.

Elk Grove Village President Craig Johnson said that while the village board remains open to a Bears proposal, it is paying strict attention to rising concerns.

The community opposition "is fearful of traffic and insisting that the stadium have more uses than just the Bears, and they may be right," Johnson said. "We'll just have to wait and see what the Bears will propose."

The Bears are notorious for picking up options on suburban land only to back off. After watching one NFL franchise after another build new stadium cash cows and after suffering through a 21 percent attendance drop in 1997, the time finally may be right for McCaskey to follow through.

Soldier Field dates to 1920, and the Bears have played there since 1971.

Unlike the new Raymond James Stadium in Tampa Bay, which offers such fan-friendly features as a giant pirate ship that shoots T-shirts into the crowd, the Bears play in a stadium with no Jumbotron screen and some of the worst sight lines of any stadium in the league.

But it's the Bears' lease that has sent

McCaskey all over suburban Chicago arranging land options.

The Bears pay the Chicago Park District, which runs Soldier Field, 12 percent of gross ticket revenue, plus a $1 surcharge per ticket. The park district keeps all parking and concessions revenue. The Bears sell the stadium's 116 luxury suites and keep 80 percent of the revenue.

The Bears "put down money all over the place," Johnson said. "They may decide to go back to Chicago, and we have no problem with that. But right now we've got a team that's offering to come here with no risk to our taxpayers, and we'd be foolish not to hear them out. We expect a formal proposal right after the holidays."

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