Friends of the Parks to the Chicago Bears: Play Ball With Stakeholders on New Stadium Plans

“For the record, Friends of the Parks would like Chicagoans to know that the parks advocacy organization did not force George Lucas out of Chicago by fighting construction of his proposed narrative arts museum on the lakefront.

“‘He left because he would not consider alternatives to building on the lakefront, on land protected by the public trust doctrine, in an area already slated to be developed into a park,’ the organization said in a statement released to the press Tuesday afternoon.

“Similarly, if the Chicago Bears leave the city for the suburbs, it won’t be because Friends of the Parks blocked the team’s proposal for a new lakefront stadium.

“‘No one wants to see the Chicago Bears leave the city, but we are being asked to respond as if there are no other alternative sites available or even in the vicinity of the existing stadium,’ the organization said. ‘We urge (the Bears) to toss balls around with stakeholders to find a way to stay home in a location that preserves our open, clear and free lakefront and is a boon for neighborhood development.’

“The statement from Friends of the Parks — now under the leadership of interim executive director Gin Kilgore following the retirement of longtime head Juanita Irizarry — comes after news broke Monday that the Bears were backing off plans to relocate to Arlington Heights and were instead floating the idea of contributing $2 billion toward a new stadium to be built immediately south of Soldier Field.

“Illinois public trust doctrine and the City of Chicago Lakefront Protection Ordinance (passed in 1973) largely prohibits new building construction east of DuSable Lake Shore Drive. Friends of the Parks is frequently portrayed as the “last line of defense” against challenges to that ordinance, be it from George Lucas, the Chicago Bears or any other developer.

“‘Sometimes, FOTP (Friends of the Parks) is characterized as an organization that says no. We also say: ‘Hold on, let’s talk about this, work to ensure that all stakeholders are at the table (or on the field), explore a range of options and be creative,” the statement said.

“That range of options could include the site of the former Michael Reese hospital, the organization said, ‘if the Bears really want to make a generational impact while keeping lakefront views.”

“Rather than the Bears dictating the conversation, Friends of the Parks is calling for all interested parties to pump the brakes on snap decisions and engage the public in the process.

“‘Discussions about a project that will require significant public investment that could profoundly affect the literal and figurative landscape of Chicago and our neighborhoods should not be rushed like this,’ the organization said. ‘What we need right now is ‘open, clear and free’ discourse driven by the public instead of private interests.'” (Wetli, WTTW Chicago, 3/12/24)

Read the full story at WTTW Chicago

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