Will the Chicago Bears stay in the city? Lightfoot hopes so, but says taxpayer dollars won’t be part of the deal
Soldier Field is the NFL’s oldest stadium and home to the bears since 1971. Though their city contract runs through 2033, many expect the team will move to the suburbs after the purchase of Arlington Park in the northwest suburbs.
The Chicago Bears took the next step in moving on from their ancestral home at Soldier Field, signing an agreement to purchase the Arlington International Racecourse property in northwest suburban Arlington Heights. The $197.2 million deal is expected to close in 2022 or early 2023.
In the meantime, Mayor Lori Lightfoot hopes to work with the Bears to find a solution that keeps the team in the NFL’s oldest stadium – but she said she doesn’t want to use taxpayer dollars as a bargaining chip.
“You know the economics of municipally financed stadiums, as do I, as do the Bears,” said Lightfoot. “You’re talking about a $4 or $5 billion venture. And if you look into the future, that price tag is only going to go up,” Lightfoot told 670 The Score.
“In a time where we’re going through a recovery from an epic economic meltdown as a result of COVID-19, we’ve got to be smart about how we spend taxpayer’s dollars.”
This isn’t the first time the Bears have floated the idea of leaving Chicago for the suburbs. In 1975, Mayor Richard J. Daley kept the Bears in Chicago by threatening to prevent the team from keeping “Chicago” in its name.
Lightfoot expressed frustration with the Bears for canceling a negotiation session. “We can’t operate in the dark,” said Lightfoot. “I don’t have a magic eight ball to divine what the Bears want.”
The Bears currently have a contract to play in Soldier Field through 2033. By breaking their contract, the Bears would owe $86.9 million to the Chicago Park District, which owns the stadium.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker also said taxpayer subsidies are not on the table at this point.
“This is a private enterprise, engaging in city governments to decide what’s best for them,” Pritzker said. “I think that the Bears and the city of Chicago need to work out their differences in order for us to end up with the Bears staying in the city.”
When the Bears signed their most recent lease, the stadium immediately underwent $660 million in renovations. These renovations were financed using bonds issued by the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority, and are not expected to be fully paid off until 2032.
If the Bears leave the city, taxpayers may find themselves on the hook for the Bears’ old debt at Soldier Field. Last year, the debt service payment was $46.5 million. By 2032, when the Bears existing contract expires, that annual payment on deferred debt will have ballooned to $86.9 million.
When asked if the Bears could still use “Chicago” in their name if they leave for Arlington Heights, Lightfoot noted that 11 NFL teams currently play outside their namesake cities.
Lightfoot expressed hope for the future prospects of a Bear-less Soldier Field. “If the Bears decide their future is in Arlington Heights – and I hope that’s not the case – we’re not gonna lack for suitors,” describing Soldier Field as “rocking” during the exhibition match between Notre Dame and Wisconsin on Sept. 25.