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Bears request more than $2 billion in public money to fund $4.6 billion stadium project

In Sports
April 24, 2024
CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 04: A detail view of a Chicago Bears banner is seen hanging in an empty Soldier Field in game action during a NFL game between the Chicago Bears and the Indianapolis Colts on October 4th, 2020, at Soldier Field in Chicago, IL. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
The Bears want a lot of public money. So do the White Sox. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The Chicago Bears have some big plans for the new stadium they’re looking to build to replace their longtime home of Soldier Field. Of course, they aren’t planning to pay for it all themselves.

The team revealed reveal plans Wednesday for a $4.6 billion project to build a new enclosed stadium on the Lake Michigan lakefront area. The team is planning to pledge $2.025 billion to make it happen, leaving Illinois taxpayers on the hook for the remaining $2.6 billion.

For perspective, that works out to $183 per Illinois resident.

The Bears and the City of Chicago are pitching the project as three separate phases. Phase I is the stadium itself, which will cost $3.2 billion to build. Phase II consists of infrastructure improvements (public transportation, parking garages, parks) for the stadium and surrounding campus, which will cost $510 million. Phase III is for “optional infrastructure to enhance the campus, improve circulation, and maximize public economic benefits,” totaling $665 million.

The Bears’ $2 billion contribution to the stadium portion still leaves them $1.2 billion short. The rest will come from an already established 2% hotel tax, which will cover $900 million. The remaining $300 million will either come from an NFL loan or a source that’s yet to be identified.

While the financials for Phase I were explained in full, the funding for Phase II and Phase III were much less clear. The Bears did not say they would cover any of the money required to complete the final two phases. The burden of paying for that would fall entirely on the taxpayers, whose money will be used to improve an area for the exclusive use and profit of the Bears.

And they will be profiting. One rendering shows a massive row of luxury boxes stacked on top of each other, a row that runs across both sides of the stadium.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker was not at the stadium announcement on Wednesday, but he did give a quote about the project. Mark him down as “not a big fan.”

A $4.6 billion stadium would be the second-most expensive stadium in sports history, behind only SoFi Stadium, the home of the Los Angeles Rams and Los Angeles Chargers, which cost an estimated $5 billionB. That project was funded entirely by Rams owner Stan Kroenke.

These plans come after the Bears already spent $197 million to buy the Arlington International Racecourse property in Arlington Heights, Illinois. They are now apparently set to abandon those plans, with the team reportedly unable to reach an agreement over property taxes with local schools in Arlington Heights.

The Bears’ lease at Soldier Field, which is nearing its 100th birthday, runs through 2033.

The Bears are pursuing their public funding in parallel to the Chicago White Sox, who have already unveiled plans for a stadium just outside Chicago’s South Loop area.

The price tag was initially reported as $1 billion, but a subsequent interview by team owner Jerry Reinsdorf revealed the price tag would be closer to $2 billion. He heavily hinted that Illinois declining to cover the money would endanger the team’s future in Chicago. The Bears and White Sox have also recently discussed a financial partnership.

The Bears and White Sox already had some financial ties, as they both received their most recent major rounds of funding for stadiums via the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority (ISFA).

A 2% hotel tax has been used to pay bonds that covered renovations for Soldier Field and Guaranteed Rate Field, but the debts have outpaced that income. Per the Tribune, taxpayers still owe $629 million on renovations for stadiums that both teams are now trying to leave while asking Illinois to pay billions to help them do so.

Some of the proposed borrowing would reportedly be used to roll over that debt, with a plan to pay it off over the course of 40 years.

One sports economist the Tribune spoke to, J.C. Bradbury, was skeptical of the plan, to say the least:

“Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me,” Bradbury said. “The Bears aren’t going to leave one of the most iconic football markets in the country. Tell the Bears to pay for their own damn stadium, and if they don’t like it, to go jump in Lake Michigan.”

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