This week, the Sun-Times dropped a bombshell that the White Sox are seriously considering leaving Guaranteed Rate Field for a new downtown ballpark on a parcel of land in the South Loop called "The 78."
Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson and White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf issued a joint statement to NBC Chicago on the report, saying that both entities have been engaged in discussions about the team’s future home. The statement did not offer specifics on the proposed South Loop project.
Stay in the game with the latest updates on your beloved Chicago sports teams! Sign up here for our All Access Daily newsletter.
"Mayor Brandon Johnson and White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf met to discuss the historic partnership between the team and Chicago and the team's ideas for remaining competitive in Chicago in perpetuity," the statement read. "The partnership between the city and the team goes back more than a century and the Johnson administration is committed to continuing this dialogue moving forward."
In early August, Crain’s Chicago Business reported that the White Sox would consider moving out of Guaranteed Rate Field when their lease expires. Rumblings of a move to Nashville stirred when Reinsdorf met with Nashville Mayor Freddie O'Connell during MLB's winter meetings. The team did not confirm what was said in the meeting.
Each year, the White Sox pay rent to the state of Illinois for usage of Guaranteed Rate Field. The state of Illinois is responsible for “capital repairs” within the ballpark, according to terms of that lease.
State taxpayers owe $50 million on the bonds used to construct the stadium, and those funds still need to be retired. Needless to say, there is no timeline for a decision on what the White Sox will do.
The Bears, of course, are also locked into discussions about their future, which could lead to delays in the White Sox' approach.
The timeline for the Bears to break ground on a new stadium site is still unclear. Hell, they still haven’t officially announced where the new stadium will be. During the Bears end-of-season press conference, president and CEO Kevin Warren said that finalizing the location for the team’s next home is one of the most pressing steps for the Bears to take in the short term as they continue to work on their long term plans. But there’s more to it than just picking a spot.
Here’s what Warren said about the future of the next Bears stadium and where things stand.
"Anytime you have 326 acres, you can do more," Warren said, referring to the plot of land the Bears already own in Arlington Heights.
However, the Bears have run into tax snags in the area. The property was previously valued at $33 million by Cook County. When the property was reassessed last May, Assessor Fritz Kaegi’s office placed the value at $197 million– the price the Bears paid to buy the land. Naturally, that huge jump in the assessment led to a big tax hike.
Churchill Downs, who was on the hook for the increased tax bill in 2022, filed an appeal saying that the property value was $37.2 million. School districts in the area, which are funded by property taxes, countered with $150 million. The two sides eventually settled for $95 million, which took Churchill Downs’ tax payment from around $16.2 million to just under $7.8 million. But that was just a one-year agreement between both sides. The Bears are on the hook for the 2023 tax bill and need to renegotiate.
Recently, the school districts came back with a property assessment of $160 million. They mentioned in a release in early December that they expect the Bears to return with a counteroffer. It's unknown whether or not the Bears submitted a value, or what that value is. But they're still in communication with Arlington Heights.
"I know there's been some outreach that we need to follow up on to make sure we continue that dialogue," Warren said. "And again, this is just a long process. So I suspect some time here in the near near future that our attorneys and their attorneys will continue to have dialogue. And so we've had a very respectful relationship with the districts."
Even though the tax issue has seemingly stalled progress on the stadium project, building at Arlington Park is still the path of least resistance. After all, the Bears already own the land. But Warren hasn’t ruled out keeping the Bears downtown and gushed about what the city of Chicago can offer.
"What intrigues me about downtown is I strongly believe Chicago is the finest city in all of the world," Warren said. "Very rarely do you get the opportunity to have such a beautiful downtown with a vibrant business community, with an absolutely beautiful lake and the energy that goes along. I always focus on, what's a way that we could bring together the beauty of the lake, the beauty of downtown, the business community, all the art exhibits, to bring that together for an environment — because it's always about the fans.
"How can we create an environment that they really enjoy? And not only on our game days but also from art, from food, from music. I live downtown. I love the city. And I just think we're blessed to be able to live in a city like Chicago. It has many pluses. I'm a big proponent of the Chicagoland area. I'm a big proponent of Arlington Heights, but there's something that's really special about downtown Chicago.
"It's amazing, you know, you look at US Bank Stadium, that's not a real big footprint, but you've been able to create that environment and so, yes, there are things that environment downtown that you can create that you don't have in the suburbs, or things in the suburbs that you can create that you don't have downtown.
“I look at life as the glass is half full. I look at the glass is full and it's pouring over. And there are so many things that we could do together. So absolutely we could build something that would be magnificent downtown."
At the end of the day, Warren made it clear that the Bears’ finalized stadium plan must make sense of the dollars and cents.
“You can’t enter in these decisions haphazardly and kind of decide as you go,” Warren said. “I think the key to it is making sure we’re very deliberate.”