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Thursday, June 20, 2024

‘Time Is Money’ for the Bears’ New Home. Now the Wait Is Even Longer

  • The Illinois legislature is set to adjourn its spring session without considering the team’s funding request.
  • The NFL team is running into growing opposition toward public funding for stadiums owned by billionaires.

The Bears already knew the pursuit of public money for their ambitious $4.7 billion stadium plan along the Chicago lakefront was going to be an uphill slog. But the Illinois state legislature has made that task even harder. 

About a month after the Bears unveiled their stadium proposal—complete with a set of flashy renderings—the legislature is set to adjourn this week for the spring without taking up any funding proposal relating to the project, and it won’t be back until the fall. 

“A proposal of this magnitude deserves sunlight and scrutiny,” state Rep. Kam Buckner told the Chicago Tribune. “Very often what has happened in this building is that things get rammed through at the last minute without much public input or transparency. So I welcome conversations that will probably begin once we’re done here [for the spring].”

The team wants public money to cover slightly more than half of the stadium cost, with $2.3 billion in private money pledged. Three phases of infrastructure development projected to total $1.5 billion are most notably not connected to any potential funding source. Chicago mayor Brandon Johnson is an ardent advocate for the Bears project, but Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office has called the effort a “nonstarter,” and interest has been cool among other legislators in Springfield in picking up the issue. 

Both Confirming and Defying a Trend

That sentiment arrives amid a fast-growing skepticism in many sectors around the country toward supplying public funding for stadiums that house privately held teams owned by billionaires—particularly as the values of those teams in most instances continue to soar. That sentiment is still spreading, even as the Bears’ proposal 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

Jacksonville, meanwhile, is also considering a plan in which it would fund about 55% of a $1.4 billion renovation of the Jaguars’ EverBank Stadium with taxpayer dollars. 

The Bears have steadily sought to keep up the pressure on timing for the public funding, with team president Kevin Warren repeatedly saying “time is money.” The team has estimated that every year lost to delays adds more than $150 million to the stadium cost.

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