Soldier Field battle in high court

The unprecedented notion of tearing down a multimillion-dollar public works project in midstream took center stage at an Illinois Supreme Court hearing Thursday as critics of the $632 million Soldier Field renovation urged justices to order the stadium put back the way it was.

In oral arguments on a suit challenging the government funding of the massive project, an attorney for the project's opponents told justices the Chicago Bears and the Chicago Park District were well aware of concerns about the plan early on and took a risk by proceeding in spite of them.

But attorneys for the other side said they have every right to proceed. The work on the massive overhaul is more than half finished, said Park District attorney Richard Burke, and "Humpty Dumpty is not going to be set back on the wall."

The two sides took their arguments to the high court, which will decide the fate of the plan to construct a new and more modern facility within the perimeter of its old colonnades in time for the 2003 season. Cook County Judge John K. Madden threw out the opponents' lawsuit last spring, saying he had no right to overturn a project approved by the legislature.

Critics of the stadium overhaul say Madden abdicated his responsibility to review the legal validity of the plan's funding scheme. They contend that the plan violated the state constitution by improperly directing public money and land to a project that primarily benefits the Bears, a private entity. The project, which won approval of the General Assembly in 2000, is financed in part with $432 million in bond proceeds to be repaid with a 2 percent tax on Chicago hotel rooms.

Michael Rachlis, lead attorney for the project's opponents, urged justices to halt construction and send a message to future litigants who would proceed with construction while valid challenges are still pending in court.

"It's harsh medicine," Rachlis said. "But it's consistent with the law."

But Burke argued that the public will benefit greatly from the project and that it should be allowed to proceed.

"There's a considerable amount of construction going on there," Chief Justice Mary Ann McMorrow said to Rachlis at one point. "Is that fact significant?"

Dissecting Rachlis' argument that the new construction was of benefit primarily to the Bears, Justice Thomas Fitzgerald noted that the Bears have long been the main users of the stadium.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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