Sports venue construction is always a big draw for contractors, with millions and millions of dollars being spent on stadium construction projects. But two of Chicago’s beloved sports teams — and potentially the contractors and designers working for them — are currently facing construction complications.
US Attorney’s Office sues Cubs, alleging violations during Wrigley Field renovation
Not all the buzz surrounding Chicago stadium during July 2022 was positive. One of the city’s two MLB franchises may be in hot water with the federal government over the past season’s renovations to its iconic Wrigley Field.
The Chicago Cubs finished their recent renovations and reconstruction of Wrigley Field, called the 1060 Project, in the 2018-2019 MLB offseason, with work done by Pepper Construction, Populous, ICON Venue Group, and Harboe Architects.
However, according to the US Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Illinois, the Cubs didn’t fulfill all their obligations to federal accessibility law — and may have to return to work in the future to rectify what the Attorney’s Office is calling discriminatory work.
According to a July 14, 2022, release from the Department of Justice, the renovation of Wrigley Field failed to provide wheelchair users with equal types of seating, placing wheelchair seating “largely clustered” in the last row of seating sections and not removing architectural barriers to wheelchair access in many parts of the stadium.
Both of these details would be in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). If found guilty of the claims, the Cubs would have to make further renovations to the stadium on top of paying damages.
“The Cubs rebuilt much of Wrigley Field and had ample opportunity — and a significant ADA obligation — to incorporate wheelchair seating and other accessible elements into the updated facility,” said United States Attorney John R. Lausch, Jr.
Despite the extensive accusations, none of the design firms involved in the project were named in the lawsuit, meaning that resolving issues may fall firmly on the shoulders of team owners and leadership.
“For 32 years, the ADA has set clear requirements to ensure that public venues such as sports facilities are accessible,” said Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Kristen Clark. “The Justice Department will vigorously enforce the law to ensure that fans with disabilities and their families are able to enjoy their ballpark experience.”
Chicago leaders push to renovate & keep Bears at Soldier Field
City leaders are intent on convincing the Chicago Bears to stay in the city and renovate the “underutilized Chicago asset” of Soldier Field — but team ownership is still looking to move their operations to a new, yet-to-be-constructed stadium 30 miles away in Arlington Heights, Illinois.
A July 25, 2022, release from officials detailed a number of proposals to improve the stadium’s capacity and amenities, along with the possibility of constructing a dome over the current stadium.
“An improved Soldier Field will deliver a world-class visitor experience,” said Mayor Lori Lightfoot. “Furthermore, any of these proposed renovations will allow Soldier Field to retain its role as an economic engine for Chicago for years to come, as these changes will allow us to keep bringing sports, music and other exciting events to our city.”
The report noted that the cost of the proposed improvement would be between $900 million and $2.2 billion, “significantly less costly than building a new stadium.” The city estimated that the cost of a new stadium could be anywhere from $1 billion to $1.5 billion more than the proposed upgrades to Soldier Field.
However, despite the city’s offer, insiders say it’s very likely that the Bears will leave Soldier Field. In September 2021, the team took a big step forward in the process by purchasing 326 acres of land outside of the city for $197.2 million.
Soldier Field last received an upgrade in 2003, when Turner Construction restored the stadium exterior and replaced the entire seating bowl, as well as adding a four-level, 2,500-space parking lot and a two-level 1,600 space parking structure.
“The train has left the station and is heading to Arlington Heights,” said The Athletic’s Kevin Fishbain. “The Bears would own that property and be able to do whatever they wanted with it, starting with building a brand new stadium from scratch. The city of Chicago can’t offer that. Decades of decisions before the current mayor led to this moment, and I don’t see anything preventing the Bears from leaving Soldier Field.”
Either way, huge construction is coming to a Chicago Bears stadium in the next few years — whether it’s in Chicago or just outside. The Bears’ ambitions are even larger than just a stadium, as the Arlington Heights plans may also include the construction of a village with retail and living space.