In reality, the 1994 FIFA World Cup kicked-off at Soldier Field on Chicago’s lakefront. In an alternate universe, it could have instead begun at the proposed never-built stadium above, a little further to the west in the Windy City. This remarkable proposal featured a sliding roof between neighboring baseball and NFL stadiums at what was to be known as the Chicago Sports Complex. This is the latest in our lost stadium plans series.
This 1985 proposal by renowned Chicago architectural giants Skidmore, Owings and Merrill was a serious proposal that garnered considerable press attention at the time. The $240 million plan by what the Chicago Tribune described as a “group of high-powered Chicago business leaders” (including Sears) would have covered 42 acres by Chicago’s central Loop district, bounded by Clinton Street to the east, Lake Street to the south, Halsted Street to the west and the Chicago and North Western`s east-west rail tracks on the north.
The sliding roof would have allowed natural grass to be installed at both stadiums, with the Chicago Bears, Chicago White Sox and Chicago Cubs all approached to play at the Chicago Sports Complex. Bears president Mike McCaskey told the Tribune he was “intrigued” by the idea. The Bears ultimately renovated Soldier Field in the early 2000s, while the White Sox built a new stadium near their-then home Comiskey Park, opened in 1991. The Cubs, of course, still play at Wrigley Field on Chicago’s north side.
The proposed American football stadium would have had a capacity of 78,000
The roof was designed to stand between the stadiums on non-gamedays, to help the grass grow. According to the Tribune, “A partial canopy would extend over the north and south edges of the stadiums, suspended from 12 huge columns similar to the support system for the McCormick Place annex. A dome of tensioned fabric could slide on a track on the inner edge of each canopy.”
Importantly, the Chicago Sports Complex would have kept all three teams in the city limits – indeed, even closer to downtown – at a time when it seemed at least one might be lost to the suburbs, with all three then in discussions with various suburban locations.
By 1986, the stadium’s proposed location had moved from west of the loop to the lakefront, replacing Soldier Field with a larger development extending to McCormick Place, with baseball now taken out of the equation – a proposal that outraged lakefront preservationists, but won support from Chicago mayor Harold Washington.
The architects working on the project were Bruce Graham and Helmut Jahn. Graham, who passed away in 2010 at the age of 84, had a remarkable Chicago architectural career– he designed the SearsWillis Tower, the Hancock Tower and was the force behind another fantastical project never built in Chicago, plans for the 1992 World’s Fair.