BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. — It’s not finalized, but the Chicago Fire have cleared another hurdle in the team’s planned move to Soldier Field.
When talking to media for over an hour on Wednesday, team president and general manager Nelson Rodriguez didn’t fully acknowledge that the team will move. However, he did say it is in discussions with the Village of Bridgeview to buyout the remaining years on the team’s lease to SeatGeek Stadium. The lease runs through the 2036 season.
“Our ownership group has been in discussions with Mayor (Steven) Landek and the Village of Bridgeview for sometime,” Rodriguez said. “Until or unless an agreement is reached, I don’t have any comment. I’m not involved in those discussions.”
A report from the Des Plaines Valley News detailed a memorandum of understanding between the Fire and Bridgeview. Rodriguez did confirm the memorandum of understanding got approval from the village, but would not give any of the details.
The details, according to the report, are that the team would pay $60.5 million to the village to get out of its lease. Under the plan, the Fire will keep their training facilities in Bridgeview for five years.
“It is not signed,” Rodriguez said. “What is approved is their version of the memorandum of understanding, but nothing has been signed.”
Also according to the report, the Fire would have to provide additional compensation to Bridgeview if another soccer specific stadium was built within 35 miles of Bridgeview. Rodriguez said the team hasn’t “been involved in any planning or discussions regarding a stadium outside of Bridgeview.” A move to Soldier Field is the likely destination in the short-term, although Rodriguez declined to discuss that.
Heading into Wednesday’s match against the New England Revolution, the Fire had an average attendance of just 11,298 fans in five games at SeatGeek Stadium. That is the worst attendance in the league.
The theme from Rodriguez is that the Fire needs to be “more involved and more present in the city” of Chicago.
“We withdrew from the city,” Rodriguez said. “I wasn’t here so I don’t know the context so I’m not criticizing that decision because I don’t know the context of it. Today, I think we need to step back into the city. We need to become an active participant in the city.
“I think to a part of that broader conversation, we need to invest in the city and we’re doing that.”
However, he did say giving fans a winning team to root for was also a priority. The Fire have made the playoffs twice in the past nine years and haven’t won a playoff game since 2009.
“Look, I won’t duck it, when you are winning and when you’re playing well, they’ll come from everywhere to anywhere,” Rodriguez said. “But the league has evolved. The league has changed. We need to catch up to that. We’re behind on that regard and I think we’re making progress in that. As far as the city, like I said, whether it’s corporate partners, where our players are living. There’s a natural connection there that needs to be made and it needs to be made stronger.”