Arlington Heights weighs in after Illinois governor calls Bears' Chicago stadium plan a ‘non-starter'

Arlington Heights weighs in after Illinois governor calls Bears' Chicago stadium plan a ‘non-starter' originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

The Bears' proposal for a new lakefront stadium faces an uphill climb after Governor Pritzker's office called it a "non-starter" after aides met with the Bears on Wednesday.

Arlington Heights mayor Tom Hayes anticipated these difficulties.

"We expected there to be challenges associated with the lakefront proposal and remain willing and ready to resume discussions with the Bears on redevelopment of their property in Arlington Heights," Hayes said in a statement to NBC Sports Chicago.

Bears president and CEO Kevin Warren unveiled a $5 billion plan that called for public money to build a fully enclosed stadium at the side of Soldier Field.

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.

Governor Pritzker expressed skepticism last week when the Bears initially released the plan.

“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.”

While the Bears and lawmakers appear to be at an impasse currently, the Governor's office has not ruled out further discussions on the project.

"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,” Secretary Alex Gough said in a statement to NBC Chicago. "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.”

The Bears bought 326 acres of land in Arlington Heights and previously planned to build a stadium there, but negotiations over property taxes forced them to shift their full attention back to a lakefront stadium.

Hayes and Arlington Heights have remained consistent in their willingness to negotiate with the Bears on a deal that makes sense for both sides.

"The Village has always acted in good faith and partnership with the Chicago Bears and the School Districts throughout this discussion, while protecting our community’s interests, and we will continue to do so as the process moves ahead," Hayes said when the Bears announced their decision to pivot to the lakefront.

At the annual NFL league meetings, Warren made it clear that the Bears' focus would only be on the lakefront moving forward.

"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."

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