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Chicago Fire a step closer to playing at Soldier Field after Park District vote

The Chicago Park District voted at its monthly board meeting to continue negotiations and enter into a permit and operating agreement.

The Chicago Fire are one step closer to moving back to Soldier Field, pictured here during the 2017 MLS All Star Game. (Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports)

The Chicago Fire are a step closer to playing at Soldier Field as soon as next year.

On Wednesday, the Chicago Park District voted at its monthly board meeting to continue negotiations and enter into a permit and operating agreement for the Fire’s use of the 61,500-seat stadium starting with its 2020 MLS season.

Main elements of the agreement include a three-year term with extension options for eight more years, Juliet Azimi, chief administrative officer, said. The Fire would pay the Park District a use fee and for operating expenses for home games. The Park District also would receive a facility fee for each attendee, as well as a share of net revenue from parking, concessions and merchandise sales.

Past expected attendance was between 10,000 and 15,000, which Superintendent Michael Kelly said officials would be happy with. “But we’ll be happier if they achieve more than 25,000,” he said.

Kelly said he was asking to continue negotiations and execute the agreement — but if there are any outstanding issues they would be run past the board before the agreement is executed.

The Fire have for months been engaged in negotiations to play at Soldier Field after negotiating to amend its current lease with Bridgeview and leave SeatGeek Stadium.

In July, the team and village announced an agreement for the Fire to leave the soccer-specific stadium in the southwest suburb for $65.5 million. The lease originally ran through the 2036 season.

Moving to Soldier Field, where the Fire played home matches from 1998 to 2001 and from 2003 through part of 2006, means leaving a soccer-specific stadium and sharing with an NFL team, but Fire President and general manager Nelson Rodriguez in July noted the success of teams such as Atlanta United and the Seattle Sounders, both of which play in NFL stadiums and draw average attendance greater than the Fire.

“It’s been challenging to get here for many fans,” Rodriguez said of SeatGeek Stadium. “Soldier Field is well-known, easier to get to, and even on events like the Gold Cup final, which had 62,000 fans, it clears out pretty easily and pretty quickly. We do not believe that moving to the city is a salve for all of our issues. We know that there’s a lot of other work that we need to do.”

The Fire moved to SeatGeek Stadium, formerly known as Toyota Park, during the 2006 season. When the stadium opened in 2006, Bridgeview Mayor Steven Landek told local taxpayers they wouldn’t have to foot the bill. But a 2012 Tribune investigation found the stadium saddled the village with millions in debt.

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