Developer details ‘reimagined’ domed Soldier Field in ‘Hail Mary’ bid to keep Bears in Chicago. Take the 6-minute video tour.

While the last-place Bears play out the string in a meaningless home finale Sunday against the division-leading Vikings, a developer hoping to keep the team in Chicago is upping its game.

Landmark Development unveiled a video tour Sunday of a “reimagined” Soldier Field, including expanded seating, premium club lounges, food halls and an adjacent concert venue, topped by a dome to attract fair-weather football fans and year-round visitors.

The primary target audience, however, is a certain football team known as “Da Bears,” whose future involves a plan to exit Soldier Field for a new stadium in Arlington Heights.

“This is a proposal that we think sets a compelling case for a team like the Bears to want to stay at Soldier Field,” said Bob Dunn, president of Landmark Development.

The six-minute video, voiced by former Chicago news anchor Bill Kurtis, is meant to gain traction for the proposed $2.2 billion renovation of Soldier Field as an alternative to building a new stadium in the northwest suburbs. Keeping the Bears at Soldier Field might also help the cause of One Central, a proposed $3.8 billion mixed-used entertainment and transit development Landmark is hoping to build above a 32-acre rail yard near the stadium and Museum Campus.

In September 2021, the Bears entered into a purchase agreement to buy Arlington International Racecourse from Churchill Downs for $197 million, with plans to develop the 326-acre site into an entertainment district anchored by a domed stadium. The team said it is not seeking taxpayer funding to build the stadium itself, but will look for public assistance to develop the rest of the $5 billion project.

While the deal to buy the Arlington Heights property has yet to close, the Bears are not in the market for alternative sites — including a renovated Soldier Field.

“The only potential project the Chicago Bears are exploring for a new stadium development is Arlington Park,” the team said in a statement Friday. “As part of our mutual agreement with the seller of that property, we are not pursuing alternative stadium deals or sites, including renovations to Soldier Field, while we are under contract.”

Founded in Decatur, the Bears moved to Chicago in 1921 and played at Wrigley Field for 50 years. In 1971, they shifted to Soldier Field, where the Chicago Park District became their landlord. The Bears pay $6.48 million per year under the current lease, which runs through 2033, but the team can exit early by paying a penalty.

In 2003, Soldier Field underwent a $690 million renovation, which critics have likened to a flying saucer crash landing atop the original Colosseum-like stadium. It stripped the 1924 building of its national historic landmark designation, but kept the Bears in Chicago — at least until now.

Taxpayers covered $432 million of the renovation project, mostly through the city’s hotel tax. A significant portion of the balance was funded by permanent seat licenses, an increasingly important tool used by teams to build or renovate a stadium. The Bears have yet to say what will happen to the 26,000 current PSL holders if the team moves to Arlington Heights.

Nearly every stakeholder agrees the 61,500-seat Soldier Field — the smallest in the NFL — is obsolete.

“I think most of us have had a lot of negative experiences at Soldier Field,” Dunn said. “It’s a building that’s deficient by all the measurables that we use in sports today.”

A Wisconsin-based developer who has built a number of NFL stadiums including U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Ford Field in Detroit and MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, Dunn also renovated the venerable Lambeau Field for the Bears’ archrivals, the Green Bay Packers. In July, he joined Lightfoot and Chicago business leaders to present preliminary designs for a potential domed renovation of Soldier Field.

Six months later, Landmark has evolved the vision into a more concrete plan and a slickly produced video. The proposal includes expanding seating up to 70,000, increasing the number of private suites from 133 to 140, adding six clubs and experiential areas, and quadrupling food and beverage space.

An adjacent outdoor concert venue would use the stadium’s infrastructure, with a rotating northern wall providing interior access.

The key feature is a massive dome atop the flying saucer, which is supported by four end zone columns. The result puts an expanded Soldier Field and amenities under glass for year-round use.

The city broadly reiterated its support for Dunn’s latest vision for Soldier Field, and the mission to keep the Bears.

“Mayor Lightfoot has been vocal about the need to reimagine the experience at Soldier Field,” Cesar Rodriguez, spokesman for the mayor’s office, said in a statement. “The City still believes that Soldier Field is the best home for the Chicago Bears and continues to engage with community partners and members of the Museum Campus Working Group to explore the future of the stadium.”

While Dunn declined to give a cost projection, he said the previously disclosed $2.2 billion renovation estimate remains in the ballpark. Utilizing 70% of the infrastructure already in place, the renovation saves up to $1.5 billion over building a comparable stadium from scratch, he said.

As to who would foot the bill, Dunn pointed to the Bears as the most likely candidates.

“Stadiums today are predominantly funded by teams,” he said. “The teams really do bear a significant burden of the costs of building stadiums.”

At least one industry expert was skeptical a domed Soldier Field would be enough to keep the Bears from heading to greener pastures in Arlington Heights.

Marc Ganis, a Chicago-based sports marketing consultant, likened the over-the-top renovation plan to a desperation “Hail Mary” pass by the city and Landmark. The biggest obstacle, he said, is that the Bears would still neither own nor control Soldier Field, which is antithetical to modern sports stadium economics.

“Start from scratch, build what you want, finance it the way you want and control it forever,” Ganis said.

At the same time, Ganis said a more modest redevelopment of Soldier Field might not keep the Bears, but could turn the century-old stadium into a significant asset for the city along the lakefront and Museum Campus, used for soccer, concerts and public events.

Dunn said the focus now is to go big and keep the Bears as an anchor tenant. If that fails, Plan B would be a downsized renovation of Soldier Field incorporating many of the same core elements.

“We do have a vision for an alternative plan, if the Bears are not part of the future of Soldier Field,” Dunn said. “We think there’s a compelling case that can be made about the stadium’s future, even if the team were to leave.”

While the city has a lot at stake with the Bears decision, Dunn has some skin in the game as well. His proposed One Central development, including an entertainment district, residential buildings and a transit hub, would be located just west of Soldier Field, across Jean Baptiste Point DuSable Lake Shore Drive.

A public/private partnership approved by lawmakers in 2019, Landmark plans to fund the $3.8 billion first phase of development, with the state buying it back for $6.5 billion over 20 years. The project doesn’t get off the ground, however, until the state authorizes the funding. Dunn said the state will conduct its own feasibility study this year.

One Central, which already lost out as a location for the proposed Chicago casino, could perhaps ill-afford to see the Bears leave town, and Soldier Field fall into disuse.

Dunn said One Central remains viable — whether the Bears play at Soldier Field or not.

“Soldier Field is going to have a future that’s different from its past. We see an opportunity there, regardless of who the tenants are,” Dunn said. “But One Central is not dependent on the future of Soldier Field.”