Bears Stadium

Gov. Pritzker's office issues blunt statement on Bears' new stadium proposal

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker previously expressed skepticism about the team's plans to build a stadium south of Soldier Field

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Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker's office had a blunt message for the Bears after team officials met with some of his top aides to discuss their new stadium plans.

According to the governor's press secretary, Chief of Staff Anne Caprara and Deputy Gov. Andy Manar met with the team to discuss their latest proposal, which was presented publicly for the first time last week.

Secretary Alex Gough said the office "appreciates the opportunity to discuss the Bears’ proposal and appreciates the organization for taking the time to discuss it," but had a blunt message for the team going forward.

"As the Governor has said, the current proposal is a non-starter for the state," Gough said in a statement to NBC Chicago. "In order to subsidize a brand new stadium for a privately owned sports team, the Governor would need to see a demonstrable and tangible benefit to the taxpayers of Illinois. The Governor’s office remains open to conversations with the Bears, lawmakers, and other stakeholders with the understanding that responsible fiscal stewardship of tax-payer dollars remains the foremost priority.”

In a statement of their own, the Bears called the conversation with the governor's office "productive."

“We share a commitment to protecting the taxpayers of Illinois and look forward to further discussions," the team said.

The team revealed plans last week to contribute just over $2 billion to build a publicly-owned stadium in the Burnham Harbor area, while turning Soldier Field into a new open space. Bears COO and executive vice president of stadium development Karen Murphy said in the presentation 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. When you subtract the $2 billion from the Bears and a potential $300 million from the NFL, it leaves $2.4 billion to be funded by taxpayers. The team will look towards a bond mechanism with the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority for $900 million of that public money. But that leaves $1.5 billion more to make up the difference.

Pritzker was asked about the plan before the team made its presentation and expressed skepticism.

“I wonder if it’s a good deal for the taxpayers,” Pritzker said. “It’s very important to me that, with all the state needs to accomplish, that we think about what the priorities are for the state… there are a lot of priorities the state has and I’m not sure that this is among the highest priorities for taxpayers.”

After the presentation, Illinois Senate president Don Harmon responded, as well.

“At first glance, more than $2 billion in private funding is better than zero and a more credible opening offer,” Harmon said in a statement. “But there’s an obvious, substantial gap remaining, and I echo the governor’s skepticism.”

The Bears bought 326 acres of land in Arlington Heights last year, and previously announced plans to build a new stadium there. But contentious negotiations about property taxes in the suburbs have become an obstacle for that plan. Earlier this year the team said it was switching its focus away from Arlington Heights back to the city.

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