Photos: Chicago Bears unveil new lakefront stadium plans ahead of NFL Draft

CHICAGO (WGN) — The Chicago Bears unveiled plans for a new stadium on the city’s lakefront Wednesday afternoon, the newest update in a years-long process by the NFL franchise to replace Soldier Field with a state-of-the-art venue that would allow Chicago to host major sporting events like the Super Bowl and the NCAA Final Four.

The Bears unveiled the plans during an afternoon press conference at Soldier Field. Mayor Brandon Johnson attended and delivered a speech following opening remarks from Bears President and CEO Kevin Warren.

Included in the proposal made public on Wednesday were renderings from Manica Architecture, seen below.

  • The Chicago Bears and Manica Architecture released renderings of the Bears’ publicly-owned stadium proposed to be built just south of Soldier Field.
    The Chicago Bears and Manica Architecture released renderings of the Bears’ publicly-owned stadium proposed to be built just south of Soldier Field.

The team had previously said the plans would encompass a state-of-the-art enclosed stadium that will also feature additional open green space on the Museum Campus, with access to the lakefront.

Last month, Warren announced the team would provide more than $2 billion in funding to build a publicly-owned domed stadium and park space along the lakefront.

GALLERY: Chicago Bears’ proposed domed lakefront stadium

On Tuesday, however, the Chicago Tribune reported the Bears’ plan will ask taxpayers to cover about half the costs to build the new stadium. According to the report, sources speaking on condition of anonymity told the Tribune the plan is estimated to cost $4.6 billion to execute, with $3.2 billion directed toward building the new stadium itself and another $1.4 billion dedicated to infrastructure improvements around and outside the stadium.

Sources told the Tribune the Bears plan to put forward $2.3 billion in private capital, which would include some financing coming from the NFL. But the Bears’ plan will also ask for $2.3 billion in public financing.

Debates on funding

That report, along with Wednesday’s unveiling at Soldier Field, will spark more debates about how much public funding — if any — should go toward financing a new Bears stadium.

City and state officials have repeatedly expressed their reluctance to provide public funding to help a professional sports franchise build a new stadium.

“There’s next to no appetite to fund a new stadium with taxpayer dollars,” President of the Illinois Senate Don Harmon has said.

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Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker addressed the Bears’ plans for a domed lakefront stadium last month, calling them “a good first step.” But he’s repeatedly expressed his wariness to commit to public funding for a stadium project and did so again regarding the Bears’ latest update on stadium plans.

During a press conference earlier Wednesday on an unrelated topic, Pritzker — while stressing he’s a Bears fan — said he “remains skeptical about this proposal.”

“I wonder if it’s a good deal for the taxpayers,” Pritzker said. “It’s early on. I have not even heard the announcement (Wednesday), but obviously read (media) reporting.

“… It’s very important to me that with all the state has to accomplish, that we think about what the priorities are of the state,” he added. “There are a lot of priorities the state has, and I’m not sure this is among the highest priorities for taxpayers.”

Last week, Mayor Johnson noted that the city’s talks with the team seemed to be headed in the right direction.

“These conversations, particularly with the Bears, have been quite positive. I appreciate the leadership of Kevin Warren,” the mayor said.

Report: City shoots down latest proposal in Bears, White Sox stadium discussions

Another possible roadblock to a new Bears stadium on the lakefront is the advocacy group Friends of the Parks, which has blocked previous development on the lakefront.

The group has met with the team, but as of earlier this week, there had been no response on the plans.

Arlington Heights question

In addition to concerns over funding, the Arlington Heights question will continue to linger as the Bears proceed with plans to build a new stadium in Chicago along the lakefront.

The Bears still own the Arlington Park property in the northwest suburb, formerly the site of Arlington International Racecourse, which the Bears purchased in February 2023 for $197.2 million. Demolition on the racecourse began soon after.

At the time, it seemed likely the Bears would build a new stadium at Arlington Park.

However, the Bears and local school districts in and around Arlington Heights reached an impasse on the valuation of the property, leaving the Bears with a higher property tax burden there than they felt they should have.

Caleb Williams confirmed for opening night of the NFL draft

The Village of Arlington Heights released a proposal in late February that would at least lessen the Bears’ property tax burden on Arlington Park, presenting the proposal to the team and the school districts.

But the Bears seem to have moved on from Arlington Park, saying their focus is on the City of Chicago, then announcing their willingness to contribute more than $2 billion in funding toward a domed lakefront stadium.

Recently, the Tribune reported the Bears filed a request with the Illinois Property Tax Appeal Board seeking a $7.2 million property tax refund on Arlington Park.

After learning the Bears would unveil their lakefront stadium plans Wednesday, Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes reiterated that the village remains a great location for a new Bears stadium “if they get a ‘no’ on the lakefront.”

Draft excitement

Wednesday’s unveiling of new stadium plans, and all the components that surround it, came during one of the most crucial and much-anticipated offseason weeks in Bears history, in terms of the team’s future on the field.

The Bears hold two of the top 10 picks in this year’s NFL Draft, including the No. 1 overall. The first round is Thursday night in Detroit.

The Bears are expected to select quarterback Caleb Williams out of USC, one of the best quarterback prospects to enter the draft in years, with the No. 1 pick. That would instantly give the Bears a new face of the franchise.

WGN Radio’s Kevin Powell on what the Bears may do with their two top-10 picks in the NFL Draft

Additionally, the Bears possess the No. 9 overall pick in Thursday’s first round, which the team could use to add another top prospect to its offense or defense, or trade to another team to acquire more assets with which to build the roster.

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