Chicago revealed its bid for the 2016 Olympic Games last week, with plans for an Olympic Village on the near south lakefront and events in Soldier Field and McCormick Place as well as a new temporary track and field stadium next to Soldier Field. Chicago officials proposed an opening ceremony where athletes would march from the temporary stadium into Soldier Field.
As Blair Kamin noted in Sunday’s Tribune, this was a “boneheaded” plan to sell more seats and get more revenue from the opening and closing ceremonies. But for me the real “Duh” moment of the Olympics proposal was the new temporary stadium.
Chicago realized it needed an 80,000 seat track-and-field stadium in order to host the Olympics. They looked around, didn’t see one, and decided to build a “temporary” one next to Soldier Field.
DUH! News Flash! Chicago had an 80,000 seat track and field stadium. They built it in the hopes of luring the Olympics to Chicago! In 1925! It was called Soldier Field!
By 1927 everyone realized it had lousy sightlines for football, having hosted an Army-Navy game, but it continued to be used for high school football and even college football. In its fifth decade, in 1972, Soldier Field managed to lure the Chicago Bears (founded 1920) away from Wrigley Field.
I used to go the north end of Soldier Field, where you could see the 20,000 seats beyond the infill, the remnants of the original 80,000 seat Olympic stadium.
This year Soldier Field lost the National Landmark status it won 19 years ago, thanks to the $632 million ($400 million taxpayer) rehab that finally turned it into the second smallest football stadium in the NFL. With sightlines.
If Landmarks Illinois had won its lawsuit and stopped the project, Chicago would have:
1. Saved $400 million.
2. An Olympic track and field stadium with enough seats to host the Opening Ceremonies, topped by colonnades reminiscent of the first and last Olympics (Athens 1896, 2004)
3. Bears ownership exposed for the business failure they earned.
Forget the aesthetics of the Soldier Field rehab. It is an historical misfire.