Illinois gov.: Bears’ stadium plan a ‘nonstarter’

Sports

CHICAGO — The Chicago Bears‘ proposal to fund a new lakefront stadium remains a “nonstarter,” Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office said after top aides met with team officials on Wednesday.

The Bears unveiled a nearly $5 billion plan calling for public funding last week for an enclosed facility to be built next to their longtime home at Soldier Field. Though the governor did not rule out more discussions, the team clearly is facing an uphill battle.

“As the Governor has said, the current proposal is a non-starter for the state,” press secretary Alex Gough said in a statement. “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.”

Pritzker’s chief of staff Anne Caprara and deputy governor Andy Manar met with the Bears, who called it “a productive conversation.”

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

The Bears’ plan calls for $3.2 billion for the new stadium plus an additional $1.5 billion in infrastructure. The team and the city said the project would add green and open space while improving access to the city’s Museum Campus.

The proposal calls for $2.025 billion from the Bears, $300 million from an NFL loan and $900 million in bonds from the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority. The funding from the ISFA would involve extending bonds of the existing 2% hotel tax.

Mayor Brandon Johnson gave a full-throated endorsement last week, saying the project is in line with Daniel Burnham’s “Plan of Chicago.” He said there would be no tax hikes or new taxes for Chicago residents. But Pritzker and other state legislators are skeptical of the plan.

The Bears spent $197.2 million more than a year ago to purchase the site of the shuttered Arlington International Racecourse from Churchill Downs Inc. They envisioned building a stadium on the 326-acre tract of land some 30 miles northwest of Soldier Field, with restaurants, retail and more on the property — all for about $5 billion, with some taxpayer help.

The Bears had said they would pay for the stadium in Arlington Heights, with taxpayer dollars covering infrastructure costs such as roads and sewers. Those plans stalled, with the team citing a property assessment it said was too high.

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