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Sunday, May 19, 2024

Bears’ $4.7 Billion Stadium Pitch Caught in a Game of Political Football

  • The office of Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker brands the team’s stadium proposal as a ‘nonstarter.’
  • Local resistance is high to giving taxpayer support to a privately owned sports team.
Chicago Bears

On the surface, what the Bears are proposing for their new $4.7 billion lakefront stadium is hardly radical by current NFL standards. The team’s pitch for a new stadium adjacent to Soldier Field, with about $2.3 billion in private money, easily beats the team-level contributions for forthcoming facilities in Buffalo and Tennessee, both in actual amount and percentage of overall development cost, and could also overtake what is being discussed in Kansas City and Cleveland

And despite the ongoing debate about the best use and preservation of Chicago’s downtown museum campus, no private landowner would be displaced in this project. The office of Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, however, has already branded the Bears’ effort, as currently constructed, as a “nonstarter.”

Such is the highly delicate nature of the city- and state-level politics surrounding the team’s stadium pitch. Even with the massive popularity of the NFL nationally and the Bears locally, and the particulars that the team has offered to date, the Bears’ proposal is running hard into broader realities and a general resistance to even a perception of enriching a wealthy team owner with taxpayer funds. 

“As the governor has said, the current proposal is a nonstarter for the state,” said Alex Gough, a spokesman for Pritzker. “In order to subsidize a brand-new stadium for a privately owned sports team, the governor would need to see a demonstrable and tangible benefit to the taxpayers of Illinois.”

Conversations between the team and Pritzker’s office are still ongoing, and the Bears said they “share a commitment to protecting the taxpayers of Illinois and look forward to future discussions.”

State-level support is likely critical for the stadium, as the team in particular has not identified a funding source for three phases of infrastructure development that are projected to total $1.5 billion, only saying last week, “There are dollars that we believe exist at the state level, maybe the federal level, and potentially the city level.”

Back in the City

Chicago mayor Brandon Johnson, whose full support of the lakefront proposal has already rankled critics, continues to face further criticism for his position. Recent local columns and editorials have opined that Johnson “is playing fantasy football with our money,” and that “the Bears are looking out for the Bears.”

Should the downtown stadium development fizzle out, officials in suburban Arlington Heights said they remain ready to restart talks with the Bears. 

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