Slow down, Chicago Bears? Johnson won’t be rushed into deal to keep team in the city: ‘We’ll get there’

Mayor Johnson has not yet offered an alternative stadium site to the Bears if the team is determined to leave Soldier Field. He says he’s using this time for relationship building.

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Mayor Brandon Johnson has met twice with Bears President Kevin Warren in an effort to build trust and rapport that hasn’t existed before between the Bears and City Hall.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Mayor Brandon Johnson said Wednesday he has not yet offered a specific Chicago site for building a new stadium for the Chicago Bears and won’t be rushed into offering an alternative to Soldier Field.

The Bears stalled stadium touchdown drive in Arlington Heights has cracked the door open for Johnson to keep the team in Chicago, but only if he’s willing to spend the enormous political capital it would take to move the team to the front of a long line of political priorities that include the immigrant crisis and delivering on his campaign promise to make $1 billion worth of “investments in people.”

So far, the mayor has held two meetings with Bears President Kevin Warren in an attempt to build the kind of trust and rapport that has not existed before between the Bears and City Hall.

During a City Hall news conference Wednesday, Johnson said he has not yet offered an alternative stadium site to the Bears if the team is determined to leave Soldier Field. It’s all been about relationship building.

“Something that I’ve learned in my work to get to this point is listening to people, hearing their values. That’s the best position to be in in order to come to a conclusion that works for everyone,” he said.

“We’ll get there. I believe it’s inevitable that we ultimately will have conversations that will be far more guided and specific. But, in the meantime, it’s just an understanding that the history of the Chicago Bears and what the people of Chicago want to see — those interests have to align. And so, the early parts of our conversations have certainly put us into position to have another one.”

If Johnson is willing to help the Bears build a new stadium — long before retiring hundreds of millions of dollars in bonds used to renovate Soldier Field — there are precious few city sites large enough to handle the massive development the Bears envision.

The South Loop site known as the 78 is bisected by an active railroad track, and the University of Illinois is building an academic and research hub there. The contaminated South Works site near 85th and South Shore Drive that formerly housed U.S. Steel has bedeviled every developer who has ever tackled it.

That leaves the old Silver Shovel dumpsite at Roosevelt and Kostner, the old Finkl Steel site in the middle of Lincoln Park, the now-troubled Lincoln Yards project and McCormick Place East, which would violate the lakefront protection ordinance.

Johnson is refusing to tip his hand.

“This city has become accustomed to these types of decisions being made in a moment’s notice. I’m a different mayor, you all. I am. I’m gonna take my time because getting this right is important,” Johnson said.

“What I don’t want is that you all push me to rush a decision to then come back to tag me for making a decision too soon that people don’t ultimately like. At the very least, you know that whatever decision that I made that I didn’t take it lightly. I believe the Bears understand that and appreciate that.”


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