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Soldier Field needs more than extra seats to land Super Bowl

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Updated: March 5, 2014 9:16AM



Five thousand more seats at Soldier Field? Whatever happened to ‘‘Make no little plans’’?

On Tuesday, the 177th anniversary of the incorporation of Chicago as a city, Mayor Rahm Emanuel floated the idea of increasing Soldier Field’s capacity — currently 61,500 for football, 63,500 for other events — as a step toward a legitimate Super Bowl bid and to maximize revenue from events such as the Stadium Series hockey game between the Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins.

It’s a great idea — if it leads to a bigger one.

Let’s face it: What’s done is done at Soldier Field. We’ve tinkered enough. The next move should be a big one. The big one. The mayor’s right: ‘‘We are fighting below our weight class,’’ he told our Fran Spielman.

Let the record show that Chicago entered that weight class, moved down to get there, when Soldier Field’s capacity was reduced from 66,950 to 61,500 during the 2002 renovation. Be that as it may, moving from welterweight to middleweight isn’t going to get the job done. We’re in the heavyweight division. We deserve a heavyweight stadium.

The 5,000 additional seats still wouldn’t get Soldier Field to the minimum 70,000 needed to host a Super Bowl. Even with 70,000 seats, it’s questionable whether the NFL would give Chicago a Super Bowl. It’s still Soldier Field, just with more seats.

While preserving the colonnades and the architectural design was admirable when Soldier Field was gutted in its ’02 renovation, the new Soldier Field always will look like a spaceship that landed inside a coliseum.

It got the job done at the time. The $673 million renovation produced a better football stadium and gave us a functional museum campus. But it cost Soldier Field its national historic landmark designation. And it left Chicago to fall further and further behind the rest of the NFL in the chase for the Big Game.

Five thousand seats aren’t going to change that. Three of the last four Super Bowls have been held at state-of-the-art stadiums built in the last nine years — AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas (completed in 2009), Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis (completed in 2008) and MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. (completed in 2010).

Chicago needs to get in line because the line is getting longer. Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., the new home of the San Francisco 49ers, was awarded the 2016 Super Bowl before it was even built. The Minnesota Vikings’ new stadium is in the running for the 2018 Super Bowl. They just had the groundbreaking in December.

That’s what the city is up against when it comes to hosting a Super Bowl. And even if this is just about generating more revenue, where the cost efficiency of a 5,000-seat addition will be an issue, the words of Daniel Burnham ring loud and clear. ‘‘Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work. . . . Think big.’’

Email: mpotash@suntimes.com

Twitter: @MarkPotash



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