What’s to become of Soldier Field?


While Chicago Bears officials have yet to decide if the team will leave Soldier Field for the food-court-and-strip-mall-rich allure of the suburbs, Mayor Lori Lightfoot is smartly moving forward as if a departure is bearing down. (Rimshot!)

My colleague John Byrne reported this week that the mayor has tasked a group of Chicagoans with figuring out what to do if there’s suddenly a big, empty stadium along the lakefront: “The 23-member working group will set out ‘to reimagine the Museum Campus experience targeting year-round tourism and activation on the campus,’ according to Lightfoot’s office.”

I’m not sure what “activation” is but it definitely sounds like something I would like to go to the Museum Campus and have done to me.

Anyhoo, I’m guessing my invitation to be part of the 23-member working group was misplaced in the Tribune mailroom, so I’m going to offer up my suggestions here and assume the rest of the group will read them and agree they’re brilliant.

Should the Bears relocate to the Ikea in Schaumburg (I assume that’s where they’re going), the first step will be getting some money out of the stadium. I propose a Craigslist ad along these lines:

“USED STADIUM FOR SALE, historic, recently updated to include partial flying saucer, good condition thanks to only minor amounts of winning, stale beer smell largely gone, $800 million OBO, buyer must haul away.”

Once it sells, there will be space aplenty to build new attractions that can boost Chicago’s tourism revenue. Here are a few sensible ideas:

1) The Interactive Museum of Incarcerated Illinois Politicians

Two words for this must-see tourist destination: growth potential.

The museum could already devote an entire wing just to Illinois governors, possibly featuring an animatronic Rod Blagojevich that greets visitors with a friendly, “I’ve got this thing and it’s (expletive) golden! Make sure you check it out in the gift store on your way out!”

A wax Betty Loren-Maltese could dispense insurance advice.

And with the government’s always efficient public-servant-to-slammer pipeline, the museum could confidently adopt the motto: “Every time you visit, there’s something new to see!”

2) The World’s Largest Dairy Queen

First off, and I say this as an unbiased observer, Dairy Queen is the most wonderful place in the world and eating there makes you smarter and healthier. So replacing Soldier Field with a roughly 7-acre Dairy Queen would benefit the city on a deep, emotional level.

But perhaps more importantly, tourists love anything that is the world’s largest. I walked past the world’s largest Starbucks on Michigan Avenue the other day and the line was out the door and down the block, even though it was so cold at least half those in line were going to die of hypothermia before getting inside.

There are approximately 11,750 other Starbucks within walking distance of the world’s largest Starbucks, but nobody in that line cared because THEY HAD TO SEE THE ONE THAT IS THE WORLD’S LARGEST.

So if the city puts the world’s largest Dairy Queen where Soldier Field now stands, there will be a line stretching out onto Lake Michigan year-round. This is a no-brainer, and because it’s my no-brainer, I get free Blizzards for life.

3) The Hall of Handsome

For too long, handsome people like me have wallowed in obscurity. By building the Hall of Handsome, Chicago could extend an olive branch to good-looking people everywhere, letting them know that, for once, they are truly seen.

Because I am one of Chicago’s most highly regarded handsome people (according to past columns I’ve written), this attraction should feature a bronze statue of me and my finely chiseled man-calves. Other things could go in there as well, but it’s a safe bet the Statue of Handsome Huppke would quickly eclipse The Bean as the city’s most iconic sculpture. It’ll be like printing money.

4) The Chicago Native Prairie and Bee Sanctuary

Hah! Just kidding. There’s no money in saving the planet.

5) Shedd Aquarium 2: NOTHIN’ BUT PENGUINS!

Let’s face it, fish are predominantly boring. Dolphins and beluga whales are cool, but you see them once and you’re pretty much done.

Penguins, on the other hand, never get old, especially if said penguins are walking around loose.

During the COVID-19 quarantine, keepers at the Shedd Aquarium let some of the rockhopper penguins roam the empty halls. Video of that outing went viral and everyone realized there are few things better than watching penguins waddling around in places you don’t expect to see penguins waddling around. That’s the whole idea behind Shedd Aquarium 2: NOTHIN’ BUT PENGUINS!

Where Soldier Field once stood, the city will build an array of places one would not expect to see a penguin traipsing about: a fast-food restaurant; a fancy hotel lobby; a movie theater; a barber shop. And then — and here’s the key part — aquarium officials will deposit a boatload of penguins and just let them hang out. (To avoid penguin poaching, visitors will move through the various settings in a plexiglass tube and occasionally be fed raw fish.)

And at the end, there will be an animatronic Rod Blagojevich dressed in a penguin suit directing everyone to the gift shop.

Trust me, this idea is (expletive) golden.

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rhuppke@chicagotribune.com



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