Bears might need new playbook for first lakefront stadium huddle with Pritzker aides

Bears officials will meet with two top aides for Gov. J.B. Pritzker Wednesday to discuss the team’s proposal for a domed lakefront stadium.

Chicago Bears

The Chicago Bears on Wednesday will for the first time discuss their proposal for a lakefront stadium with two top aides for Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who already has publicly and privately criticized the use of public subsidies for new sports stadiums.

And team officials are likely to hear that there isn’t a magic number to get them close to wiping away the governor’s ideological opposition, according to a source with knowledge of Pritzker’s thinking.

The Bears want the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority to issue $1.2 billion in new debt to be paid over 40 years — paid for by the 2% tax on Chicago hotel rooms used to build Guaranteed Rate Field and renovate Soldier Field.

“The money that comes from this hotel tax does not belong to the Bears. It does not belong to the White Sox. It does not belong to any sports team. That belongs to the taxpayer,” the source said. “There needs to be an evolution of thinking in the way that owners and sports teams approach asking and paying for sports stadiums. Because we are in a different world than what we were in 30 years ago. And it seems like everybody else understands that except for the people on these teams.”

Pritzker has said a new Bears stadium is not a priority for him — and that taxpayers would need to reap more of the benefits. Deputy Gov. Andy Manar and Pritzker’s chief of staff Anne Caprara will meet with the team, but not Pritzker himself.

Pritzker’s take is a stark contrast to the support shown by Mayor Brandon Johnson, who last week attended a press conference debuting what the team billed as a $4.7 billion domed lakefront stadium. Johnson said he supported the plan because it included a trifecta: no new or increased taxes, a “real and substantial private investment” of $2 billion from the Bears and “public use and participation.”

But ISFA has pegged an even higher price tag, noting it would cost Chicago and Illinois taxpayers $5.9 billion to help the Bears build and refinance the stadium and retire existing debt used to renovate Soldier Field and the home of the Chicago White Sox, Guaranteed Rate Field.

The governor’s office is puzzled the Bears chose to publicize its plan without taking into consideration public opinion of the use of public subsidies for new stadiums — and that state lawmakers would have to take a political hit to clear the plan. There is also concern the refinancing of bonds could be viewed as a negative step to credit rating agencies, who have incrementally upgraded the state’s ratings since Pritzker took office.

“You’re actually asking for something enormous. You’re asking for something that the public doesn’t like, and you’re asking legislators and elected officials to make a choice that flies in the face of where the public is at,” the source said. “And if you are thinking about your negotiations, and you’re thinking about how to get to yes on anything, you can’t start from a place of literally not understanding what you’re asking people to do.”

Illinois House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside, last week publicly squashed the Bears chances of getting legislation through during the current spring session. Illinois Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, said the $2 billion being offered in private funding is a “more credible opening offer” but said he’s also skeptical.

Despite cold water from some of the state’s top Democrats, Bears President Kevin Warren appears to be all-in in his public and private push. He’s even shown enough optimism to talk about the benefits of approval in the spring session. His message? “Time is money.”

“If we’re approved in May, that would allow us to start construction and put people to work next summer, and that would allow us 36 months later to open up our building in 2028,” Warren said last week. “So this truly is one of those adages that time is money.”

(Visited 1 times, 1 visits today)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *