City landmarks to get overhaul

The Chicago Park District awarded contracts yesterday that it hopes will produce a makeover of sorts for both Soldier Field and the city's landmark Buckingham Fountain.

The board awarded SMG, the company that currently manages Soldier Field, a three-year management contract that includes two additional one-year extension options. SMG will receive a base fee of $320,00 plus annual bonuses capped at $245,000.

District officials expect SMG to attract new events and activities to the landmark arena, which currently generates most of its revenue during the 10 days each year when the Chicago Bears play there.

Soldier Field generated $11 million for the park district under the current contract, which expires March 1, according to Chicago Park District spokeswoman Jessica Faulkner.

The district would like to see that increase substantially, with
the stadium, parking facilities and the 18-20 acres of surrounding parkland "booked as much as possible," according to Raffi Sarrafian, director of purchasing.

Park district Superintendent Timothy Mitchell said the district would incorporate some of the ideas submitted by competing bidders. Concert promoted Live Nation and a division of Comcas also submitted bids for the project.

Ice figures prominently in Soldier Field's future. Among new events that could potentially come to the arena are a Latin music festival, hockey and ice skating.

"We look forward to hosting both professional and college (hockey) games some day soon," said Sarrafian.

"We might even leave the skating rink up after games so that families can come and enjoy skating on the 50-yard line," said Faulkner.

The board also granted a $1,335,000 construction contract to Thompson Dyke & Associates, Ltd. to repair and restore Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park.

The attraction draws thousands from mid-April to mid-October with its colorful displays of light, water and music. Constructed in 1927, the historic fountain was designed by the architect Edward H. Bennett, who drew inspiration from Louis XIV's basin at the gardens in Versailles.

Repairs include the repaving of the table surrounding the fountain so that it will be more easily accessible by wheelchair.

Other repairs include fixing cracks in the lower basin, replacing 80-year-old pumps and upgrading the electrical system.

Plans also call for the installation of lights along the lower basin to further illuminate the fountain's elaborate bronze sculptures.

The cost of restoring the fountain is estimated at $20 to $25 million, said Mitchell. The district is chipping in $8 million of that; the Art Institute will kick in another $8 million. The district is seeking $4 million from the state and $4 million from Park Ways, the district's 501c3. The remainder will be provided with tax increment financing, said Mitchell.

Construction is slated to begin after Labor Day and finish by April, in time to showcase the Grant Park centerpiece to visiting Olympic committees.