A couple of months ago, reports from 670 The Score's Shane Riordan surfaced about the Bears looking into the viability of using the South Lot of Soldier Field as the next site for their new stadium.
On Friday, Crain's Chicago Business reported the South Lot isn't a tactic to mitigate the ongoing differences between the Bears and their property tax issues in Arlington Heights. Building a stadium on the Soldier Field South Lot is now the "real goal" for the organization.
"Though this game is far from over, multiple sources in government and close to the team tell me building in the central area is not just a lever to extract better tax terms from Arlington Heights, but the real goal," Greg Hinz reported for Crain's.
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The timeline for the Bears to break ground on a new stadium site is still unclear. During the team's 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.
"Anytime you have 326 acres, you can do more," Warren said, referring to the plot of land the Bears already own in Arlington Heights.
Negotiations over the Chicago Bears’ property tax bill are ongoing. But the fate of an Arlington Heights stadium development remains in the balance as the team and the surrounding school districts remain $100 million apart in their valuations of the site, according to testimony at a hearing on the dispute in January.
The team’s attorney argued at a Cook County Board of Review hearing that the property should be valued at $60 million and taxed at the 10% rate for residential and vacant land, due to the work done to demolish the existing structures on the site, versus the 25% tax rate for commercial properties.
The Bears’ lawyer said the team submitted two appraisals of the site, one for $60 million and the other for $71 million, and contended the assessor’s office inflated the value of the land relative to similar sales in the area.
Three surrounding school districts – which rely on property taxes for their funding – intervened in the Bears’ appeal. The schools submitted an appraisal finding the site to be worth $160 million, leaving a $100 million gap between the two sides.
"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 sometime 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."
The tax gap, at this point, feels too substantial to bridge and shake hands on. The Bears own the land, at a hefty price of ~$200 million, but neither side has come down in their tax evaluations enough to believe they can make things work.
Warren hasn’t ruled out keeping the Bears downtown and gushed about what the city of Chicago can offer. He and Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson have had multiple meetings and have released two joint statements describing the positive nature of the conversations.
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.”
Check back to this story for more updates.