Mar 12, 2024 - News

Chicago Bears have a long road ahead in lakefront stadium fight


The Aaron Montgomery Ward Gardens plaque in Grant Park in Chicago. Photo: Raymond Boyd/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

The Chicago Bears have zeroed in on the lakefront for a new stadium, but that doesn't mean it's going to happen.

Why it matters: Chicago has a long history of city planners, government officials and private citizens battling to keep commercial developments from building on the lakefront.

Context: When the lakefront was created and expanded in 1836, city commissioners wrote that it was a "public ground–a common to remain forever open, clear and free of any buildings, or other obstruction whatever."

  • In 1909, Daniel Burnham's plan for Chicago reiterated that original sentiment, suggesting the lakefront be owned by the people, not by corporate or political interest. He recommended parklands.

Around the same time, retail magnate Montgomery Ward led a yearslong charge to protect Chicago's lakefront from hastily made municipal projects.

  • His unpopular efforts led him to win a case in front of the Illinois Supreme Court, which paved the way for Grant Park and the famed rallying cry "Forever Open Clear and Free."
  • In 1972, lakefront advocates used Ward's precedent to block Mayor Richard J. Daley from trying to build a third airport near S. Lake Shore Drive.

Yes, but: Lakefront advocates lost the decadeslong battle to keep McCormick Place from building there. McCormick East opened in 1971.

  • Those municipal fights led to Daley creating a Lakefront Protection Plan, but it did not account for private land surrounding Lake Shore Drive, leading to the residential towers blocking the lake.

Fun fact: In 1986, then-Mayor Harold Washington pitched a plan to build a new stadium in the exact spot the Bears are planning to build today. It was defeated.

Between the lines: FOTP also launched a legal battle against another lakefront development project more than a decade later: the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art.

What's next: FOTP has said it will fight any Bears stadium plan on the lakefront.


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