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Emanuel wants solution to Soldier Field turf problem

Updated: August 9, 2011 11:59PM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Tuesday he has directed the Chicago Park District to find a permanent solution to the decades-long turf battle at Soldier Field that prompted the team to cancel its annual Family Night practice and send disappointed fans home.

“I’ve asked them to look at it. I want the players and the teams that come and the fans that want to go to Soldier Field to find a … facility that is reliable. That’s what I expect them to do and I expect the people at the Park District to make the tough choices and the choices that are responsible,” Emanuel said.

The mayor was asked point-blank who he holds responsible for Friday’s night’s fiasco that saw thousands of fans fight a Lollapalooza of a traffic jam only to be turned away. Adding insult to injury, the Bears were bussed back to Bourbannais for a nighttime practice. They didn’t even stick around long enough to sign autographs.

“I’m not looking right now [for someone to] blame. I’m looking [for] a solution,” he said. “Different people and different parties have different ideas on this. I expect them to come up with a solution so it’s a reliable” surface that doesn’t have to continually be replaced.

The private company that manages Soldier Field has accepted responsibility for the latest fiasco. Stadium general manager Tim Lefevour has acknowledged that he made the decision to stop watering the field because the Bears prefer the ground to be firm.

As a result, the sod pulled apart, leaving seams that could cause player injuries.

But, the larger issue is the fact that the Park District owns the stadium but the Bears contributed to the cost, pay rent and get to choose the type of field. And Bears President George McCaskey reiterated this week that the team prefers to stay with natural grass.

That puts the Park District in the unenviable position of having to replace the field periodically and get pilloried on national television every time clumps of it come up during Bears games.

The question now is whether Emanuel is prepared to pressure the Bears to make the switch to artificial turf on grounds that it would be less costly for Chicago taxpayers.

On Tuesday, the mayor refused to tip his hand. He also dodged the question when asked whether the Bears should have made an embarrassing situation better by sticking around to sign autographs.

“The folks at the Park District are gonna address and speak to this. I expect them to have the answers that are necessary. That is what’s important,” he said.

“I’m not gonna pass judgment about what the Bears should have done. But, I do know the parties that are responsible are looking into this. That’s where the answer will lie.”

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