Bears Stadium

Friends of the Parks responds to Bears' new stadium proposal

Friends of the Parks, which successfully sued to prevent George Lucas from building a museum along the lakefront, has previously voiced opposition to the construction of any new stadium project on Museum Campus, where the Bears are proposing for their new stadium site

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Prominent Chicago preservation group Friends of the Parks responded Wednesday to the highly anticipated reveal of the Bears' newest stadium proposal in Chicago, which includes tearing down much of the current Soldier Field in order to build a domed facility and more.

Friends of the Parks, which successfully sued to prevent George Lucas from building a museum along the lakefront, has previously voiced opposition to the construction of any new stadium project on Museum Campus, where the Bears are proposing for their new stadium site.

"The 'Chicago Way' was on full display at the Chicago Bears news conference today. Once again, Chicago taxpayers are being told what is good for them. We are told that a new domed stadium on protected lakefront land will make Chicago a great city," the group said in response to the announcement. "We are already a great city—in large part due to our protected lakefront. As is so often the case in Chicago, the powerful and wealthy are demanding that our entire city stop and fast track their plans to expand operations on the people’s lakefront."

The group noted several lingering questions following the team's proposal reveal, including why the team is pushing for a faster timeline on the project, why other parks weren't vetted or chosen as the potential site, what will happen to Soldier Field and more.

"We did not hear anything at the Bears news conference that could not take place at another Chicago location. We have too many questions to make any decision about the value of these plans. We encourage the Bears and the administration to act with 'honor, integrity, transparency, wisdom and to be forward thinking and collaborative' and not repeat past mistakes," the group's statement read.

The Bears addressed some of those questions during their announcement Wednesday, saying the team evaluated 10-12 different sites before settling on Museum Campus.

Among those was the Michael Reese Hospital site.

"I was passionate about the Michael Reese site, one because the history and tradition with Bronzeville and all the different things that it brings to the table," Bears President and CEO Kevin Warren said. "The difficulty about this site - it is very narrow. So from an NFL stadium footprint standpoint, it's difficulty doesn't work. It's too narrow. The other thing is that it would require this to be built over an active railroad and train lines. There are certain rules and requirements that the majority of sports leagues, especialls the National Football League, has in regards to building active stadiums over active train lines, especially with a certain kid of 100-foot perimeter."

Warren said in order for the team to be able to build a stadium capable of hosting Final Four games, Super Bowls, college playoffs, concerts and more, "it would be incredibly challenging at this point in time to make that work."

The team revealed plans for more than just a stadium, rather showcasing an entertainment hub that can host a number of major events.

"This really becomes an international destination [for] the Olympics, World Cup," Warren said.

Renderings of the proposed new stadium include a "fixed" roof, with the stadium situated atop the current South parking lot of Soldier Field. As for Soldier Field, the columns exist, but the stadium is gone. (See the full renderings here)

The proposal offers the first chance for fans and the city to view what the team has planned since shifting gears away from the Arlington Heights property they previously purchased.

Mayor Brandon Johnson spoke to NBC Sports Chicago shortly after the Friends of the Parks statement was released, and he said he's "looking forward to the continued the conversation."

"The lakefront protected ordinance, which I’m fully in support of, I’m confident we’re not in opposition to that ordinance," Johnson said. "We’re talking about 20% more open space. The amount of investment going into creating 14 more acres of space for our children, our young people in Chicago to benefit from, that’s been the vision for the lakefront for some time. Look, I know there’s been a regular practice in the city of Chicago where things have just been rammed down peoples’ throats. This is a proposal. What we’re saying is, we have an opportunity to not just keep the Bears in the city of Chicago, but 24,000 more construction jobs just for the people of Chicago, 46,000 more jobs in the region, millions of dollars of labor income - the type of income that’s needed to afford to live in the city of Chicago. That’s what this proposal provides."

Among the new features highlighted by the team were:

  • Expanded green and open space
  • Added playfields, creating more safe places for youth and families to gather
  • Public restrooms along with food and beverage options to enhance park user experience 
  • Better infrastructure that improves access to Museum Campus
  • A year-round venue that can host community events of all sizes

One of the biggest question from residents involved financing for the new plan.

“I’m going to repeat that one more time to make sure that everybody gets it,” Johnson said during the announcement. “This project will result in no new taxes on the residents of Chicago.”

Bears COO and executive vice president of stadium development Karen Murphy said in a presentation on Wednesday that the team expects the entire stadium project to cost $4.7 billion: $3.2 for the stadium itself and just over $300 million for the infrastructure required to open it, then $1.2 billion for two other phases of development.

Last month, the team confirmed it would contribute $2 billion dollars to fund the majority of the project. On Wednesday, a slide in the presentation clarified that number would be closer to $2.025 billion dollars. After that, the team would look to an NFL stadium program for a $300 million loan. That leaves a $900 million gap for the stadium financing itself. The Bears plan has them looking to a bond mechanism in the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority program to make up the difference.

The Bears said a 2% hotel tax that is already in place for the ISFA should be able to make up the $900 million they need from public funds.

There wasn’t a clear answer as to where the team would get the $300 million for the infrastructure, however. Murphy said the team is still working with the state and looking into different funding sources.

If the team gets the public funding needed to open the stadium, they said there will be two more phases of development requiring public money.

The Bears' plans have also faced increased scrutiny amid a separate push from the Chicago White Sox to secure public funding for a stadium project in the South Loop. According to a recent Crain's report, the teams have been told that there is little appetite on the part of lawmakers to approve separate financing plans for stadiums, and urged the two teams to work together.

Warren and the Bears have said they are still happy to own the Arlington Park property, and officials there remain optimistic that the team could return to the negotiating table.

"We are the largest landowner in Arlington Heights right now. 326 acres," Warren said. "We own a beautiful piece of land. And I have great respect for Mayor Hayes and Randy Recklaus and all of the politicians there. My belief right now, these projects are incredibly difficult. And just learning the various things that I did in Minnesota, you have to be laser-focused. And right now, we're putting our energy to downtown Chicago, to the museum campus, just from an energy and resource standpoint. So we still own the land. We’re the largest landowner. We’ll stay in communication with Arlington Heights, but the focus now has to be on Chicago to give us the best opportunity for success."

Arlington Heights officials said they will be ready and waiting for if the Bears change their minds.

"There’s a lot of challenges ahead with respect to the lakefront stadium in terms of financing and opposition by interest groups like Friends of the Parks… We stand ready to continue discussions with the Bears if they do get a no on the lakefront," Mayor Tom Hayes told NBC Chicago.

He added that while the village is respectful of the Bears' plan to explore a lakefront stadium, they believe the Arlington Heights property is a better fit.

“Other than a lake which we don’t have in Arlington heights, I think everything else in Arlington heights is a better solution for them," he said.

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