SBJ/August 18 - 24, 2003/Facilities

Bears putting finishing touches on Soldier Field for its Sept. 29 debut

Progress marches on at the new Soldier.

The $606 million renovation of Soldier Field is 95 percent complete as the Chicago Bears' Sept. 29 home opener approaches, said new Soldier Field spokesman Barnaby Dinges.

The fact that it appears Soldier Field will be ready is notable, considering the 20-month fast-track construction period. A new stadium, which designers and builders have essentially created within the old Soldier Field shell, traditionally takes a full two years to build.

"The project is on pace, on budget and on schedule," Dinges said. "The field is completely installed, the goal posts are up, the scoreboards and video electronics are up and tested and we have two-thirds of the seats installed. All the lighting pieces are in place."

Because of the tight construction schedule, the building won't be available for an official open house until Sept. 27, said Tim LeFevour, a 17-year Bears employee who is now SMG's on-site facility manager. That's two days before the home opener.

On that day, the Bears, the city of Chicago, SMG and Sportservice will play host to a "Find Your Seat Day" and ribbon-cutting ceremony.

The Bears will christen the remodeled venue on ABC's "Monday Night Football." What television viewers probably won't see are unfinished infrastructure elements and portions of newly developed parkland outside the stadium. That work will continue through next spring.

"We expect to have 70 percent of the landscaping done for opening day," Dinges said. "It will still look good from the blimp and up high."

With the 133 luxury suites, all on the east side, and 8,657 club seats, the stadium has full capacity of 62,575, reduced from the previous 66,944. The Bears control all game-day revenue.

The public-private project has taken its fair share of hits in the local and national media, which took exception to the towering, futuristic exterior shell that dwarfs the historical colonnades remaining from the original structure.

Dinges said the critics have been quiet lately, withholding judgment until they experience the final product.

"Some of them have had their fun," he said. "But once we open on time and on budget and the fans are enjoying it, then we'll have our fun. So far, everyone without exception loves the inside. It's a complex design. We feel we broke the mold of an NFL stadium with a structure built inside of a landmark."

Architects are Wood & Zapata of Boston and Chicago-based Lohan Caprille Goettsch. Ellerbe Becket was hired to design mechanical, electrical and plumbing units.

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