New Chicago Bears stadium plan shifts to a publicly owned domed stadium on museum campus: Source – NBC Chicago

The Chicago Bears' pursuit of a new stadium has shifted focus to a publicly owned domed stadium on the museum campus, near Soldier Field on the city's lakefront, according to a source familiar with the plan.

The Beers plan to invest more than $2 billion in private financing in the project, which will also increase open space in the area by 20%, the source said.

This open space will include plazas, paths, landscaped areas, lake access, and more. The effort — creating more public spaces in the redevelopment of the area — appears aimed at appeasing the Friends of the Parks group, which has successfully sued to block George Lucas from building a museum along the lakefront, and has previously expressed opposition to the team's construction. For any new playground project on the museum campus.

A source familiar with the Bears' plan cited a poll that showed 66% of Chicagoans support Museum Campus Stadium over the team's move to the city's suburbs. Previously, a move to the suburbs had long been a focus for the Bears, who purchased 326 acres in Arlington Heights in February 2023 with the goal of developing a stadium district on the site.

Bears President and CEO Kevin Warren confirmed the team's new intention to remain in Chicago in a statement, saying the team is “committed to contributing more than $2 billion to build a stadium and improve open spaces for all families, fans and the general public to enjoy.” City of Chicago.”

“The future stadium for the Chicago Bears will provide a transformative opportunity for our region – boosting the economy, creating jobs, facilitating major events and generating millions in tax revenue,” Warren continued. “We look forward to sharing more information as we finalize our plans.”

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It's not yet clear what the total cost of the development will be, or where the rest of the funding for the project will come from. The shift in focus comes shortly after illinois lawmakers instructed the bears and Chicago White Sox – Also seeking public funds to build a new stadium – to work together to come up with a single proposal for state funding.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker late last month cast doubt on the desirability of much public funding for either stadium.

“Stadium projects across the country have been done with public money, less and less over the years, and there's a reason for that, which is that the return on investment for taxpayers now has to be proven before then,” Pritzker said when asked about the teams' efforts. “We'll actually move forward. I haven't seen evidence that this is a good deal for Illinois taxpayers, but they haven't made that case yet.”

Further complicating the public funding request is the money still owed by the two teams' stadiums. The Illinois Sports Facilities Authority, which issued bonds to build both stadiums, owes $589 million on the 2002 renovation of Soldier Field and $50 million on the guaranteed price, which opened in 1991. Those bonds are paid in part by the state's capital hotel. 2%. Tax, but if that revenue can't make the multimillion-dollar payments, Chicago's share of the state income tax makes up the shortfall. The guaranteed-rate bonds are scheduled to pay off in 2029, while the Soldier Field deal runs through 2032.

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The Bears' shift in direction also comes less than three weeks after the Cook County Board of Review issued its ruling in a long-running dispute over the team's property taxes at its Arlington Heights location.

Because the Bears were in the process of purchasing the site that once housed Arlington International Horse Race Track for $197 million, the Cook County assessor increased the value of the property from $33 million to nearly the purchase price.

The Bears appealed that appraisal and asserted the property was worth $60 million. Three area school districts, which rely on property taxes for their funding, intervened in the appeal, arguing it was worth $160 million.

When the two sides couldn't reach an agreement, the review board ruled late last month that the property was worth just under $125 million, leaving the team with a tax bill somewhere in the $9 million range.

The Bears had hoped to build a multibillion-dollar stadium district in Arlington Heights, with restaurants, retail, residential properties and more. But the team has long said they need two things to build there: a property tax “guarantee” and public funding for infrastructure like roads and sewers.

A property tax dispute was one of the factors that brought Chicago Stadium back to the table. The most recent was the election last year of Mayor Brandon Johnson, who has publicly stated that he is interested in keeping bears in the city.

He and Warren met shortly after Johnson was sworn in and promised “regular dialogue” as they continued to negotiate.

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While former Johnson Mayor Lori Lightfoot also expressed interest in keeping the Bears in Chicago, emails obtained by NBC 5 Investigates showed an acrimonious relationship between the team and Chicago Park District officials in its management. Much of the frustration stems from the city's refusal to consider sports betting at Soldier Field, among other disputes.

The Bears still own the Arlington Heights property. They pay more than $6 million a year to play at Soldier Field, according to a lease that runs through the end of the 2033 season.

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