When the 2004 MLS season ended, Chicago Fire fans were distraught that the Fire did not reach the MLS playoffs for the first time. On Tuesday afternoon, under gray skies and a cold intermittent rain, there was no sign of that lingering disappointment as the club broke ground on its new soccer home.
The Bridgeview stadium, located at 71st and Harlem on approximately 100 acres, will be funded by the Village of Bridgeview and operated by AEG, the parent company of the Chicago Fire. The state-of-the-art facility will feature 20,000 seats for soccer and approximately 28,000 seats for concerts and additional events and will house the Fire permanently beginning in spring 2006.
Prior to the ceremonial groundbreaking for the new stadium, a number of dignitaries addressed the crowd, led by village of Bridgeview Mayor Steve Landek. "This groundbreaking symbolizes yet another breakthrough for the Chicago Fire, the Village of Bridgeview and the entire Southland (of Chicago). Like Major League Soccer players themselves, our residents are modest, hard-working, approachable people with big dreams. I thank the Chicago Fire for recognizing these attributes as strengths," Landek said.
The Mayor also thanked the taxpayers of Bridgeview and the five local Bridgeview trustees who cast the deciding votes in favor of the project, ensuring that the village beat out numerous other local towns who were anxious to claim the Fire as their own. Following Landek's remarks, Tim Leiweke, AEG President and CEO, spoke to the Fire faithful. "Our commitment to create a world-class stadium for soccer, concerts and other special events will not only bring outstanding sports and entertainment right here to Bridgeview, but will also bring tremendous economic investment, jobs, resources and new opportunity to this great community," Leiweke said. The theme of spurring local economic growth was stressed by all of the speakers at the press conference.
The Fire will be the stadium's primary tenant, and the site will house the team's offices and training center. The stadium will be a multi-purpose facility, serving as a major concert venue and a resource for the rapidly growing youth soccer communities and the Southland area at large.
"This stadium will allow the Fire to retain the revenue it generates and control its schedule and its fan services which is very exciting," said Fire president and general manager Peter Wilt. In past seasons the Fire have been forced to reschedule many contests due to conflicts with fellow stadium occupants, such as the Chicago Bears at their current home of Soldier Field.
Wilt also commented on the stadium's architectural significance. "Architecturally, it reflects Chicago's urban characteristics. The brick archway at the main entrance evokes images of an old Chicago firehouse. Rossetti (the architectural firm) paid homage to Chicago's own Frank Lloyd Wright with the design," Wilt said. "Many unique features will contribute to making this America's Soccer Home including inclusion of the Illinois Soccer Hall of Fame, a center entrance player tunnel, the canopies over the seats, the soccer pub and the low to the ground front row." MLS Commissioner Don Garber highlighted the significance of the new venue for soccer in the United States. He stated that following its completion the stadium will become only the fourth major soccer-specific stadium in the United States. The new home of FC Dallas will be the third, opening their new facility in Frisco, Texas in spring 2005, joining the list of soccer-specific venues at the AEG-owned Home Depot Center, home of the MLS's Los Angeles Galaxy, CD Chivas USA and all the U.S. national team program, and Columbus Crew Stadium.
"This new soccer-specific stadium will revolutionize the soccer experience for Chicagoland soccer fans and for supporters throughout America," Commissioner Garber said. "By building this stadium, the visionaries of this public-private partnership in Bridgeview are leaving a lasting soccer legacy not only for the state of Illinois but for our entire nation."
The Fire will play their final season at Soldier Field next year, which is being billed as the "Bridge to Bridgeview", before moving 12 miles south of downtown to the community of some 17,000 which is part of Chicago's Southland.
Toby True is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.