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Sunday, April 21, 2024
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Enough for Both? White Sox, Bears Ramp Up Push for Stadium Funds

  • The MLB club begins to escalate its ask for taxpayer dollars.
  • Chicago’s mayor continues to show a desire to keep both teams in the city.

The race is on for public money to build new pro sports stadiums in Chicago, and it’s possible there won’t be enough to go around to meet the still-growing wish list in the Windy City or statewide. 

White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf made his first extended comments last week on a proposed new ballpark near Chicago’s downtown for the MLB club, telling Crain’s Chicago Business that the project could involve an ask of about $1.1 billion in taxpayer funds, coupled with another $900 million in infrastructure work that has been authorized, but not funded, by a tax-increment financing district. The overall project, also involving adjacent mixed-use development that is increasingly in vogue across the sports industry, could reach $4 billion in total cost.

Reinsdorf’s interview arrived in tandem with team officials meeting last week with state lawmakers to begin their push for funding help. In both instances, Reinsdorf emphasized that the White Sox cannot succeed long-term at Guaranteed Rate Field, citing the “completely changed” economics of baseball. He also employed a time-honored maneuver of suggesting a potential relocation, telling the publication that “the team will be worth more out of town.”

Despite the hefty price tag for the proposed stadium project, Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson has shown a willingness to discuss the effort and is an ardent advocate of keeping the club in the city—similar to his ongoing stance toward the NFL’s Bears. 

“As far as public dollars, we haven’t gotten into any of those specifics yet,” Johnson said of the White Sox proposal. “But I will say that we’re going to explore all options. We have to make sure that we’re doing right by the people of Chicago. … Everything is on the table here. But again, I want to make sure there is a real commitment to public use and public benefit.”

That sentiment differs considerably from stiff opposition to sports facility funding in many other parts of the country, including in Virginia for the proposed arena and mixed-use development for the Washington Wizards and Capitals. 

Bearing Down

Reinsdorf conceded in the Crain’s interview that the White Sox and Bears could vie for the same hotel tax funds to fund their respective projects. The Bears are continuing an extensive search across the Chicago area for a site on which to build a new domed stadium. Despite the Bears owning a 326-acre tract in suburban Arlington Heights, an ongoing tax assessment dispute has helped extend the team’s search for other possibilities. 

Talks have occurred between the White Sox and Bears about not complicating each other’s stadium development and funding efforts, but a shared facility is not being contemplated.

In a recent interview with WGN, Bears president Kevin Warren talked up the appeal of Chicago’s noted lakefront area, where current home facility Soldier Field is located.

“I’ve made it very clear what I feel about Chicago,” Warren said. “I think it’s the finest city in the world. I can’t think of another major metropolitan area that has a beautiful lakefront that you can swim in that’s clean near downtown. The architecture in Chicago is phenomenal. And just the history and the tradition. It’s just something that feels right about the Bears in Chicago.”

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