Bears delay Springfield stadium legislation drive this year

The team’s president says the Bears won’t push for the legislation they argue is key to their plans for a massive development in Arlington Heights.

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Bears president and CEO Kevin Warren listens during a January news conference at Halas Hall. 

Bears president and CEO Kevin Warren at a January news conference at Halas Hall.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

The Chicago Bears say they’ll run out the legislative clock this year rather than take a shot at the end zone in Springfield for a massive property tax break that would help them build a new stadium in Arlington Heights.

Team president Kevin Warren released a statement this week saying they “want to appropriately explore all opportunities” from Chicago to the suburbs where officials have pitched the team to bear down, so they “will not be pursuing legislative support for mega projective incentive legislation” during the veto session scheduled to start next month.

“Our process to find the best stadium solution for our franchise, our fans and the region continues to be methodical and intentional,” Warren said. “Thanks to the leadership of Mayor Brandon Johnson and his team, we have recently engaged in positive and productive discussions with the City of Chicago. We also continue to have dialogue with officials in Arlington Heights and other Chicagoland locations about a Chicago Bears stadium project.”

Warren’s latest comments, issued Wednesday, struck another note of optimism for fans hoping to see the Bears stay within the city limits. Last week, in a letter to season ticket holders, Warren wrote that team leaders were “thankful for the vision” Johnson and his top aides have shared to keep the team in Chicago.

Not that the first-term mayor has revealed that vision. Arlington Heights remains the only concrete alternative the team has floated as a stadium upgrade from aging Soldier Field — and the only one where the team has put down any money.

The team paid $197.2 million for the shuttered Arlington International Racecourse and last year laid out grand designs of a sprawling stadium and mixed-use development spread across its 326 acres. Demolition of the historic racetrack began in June.

An excavator begins to demolish the Arlington Park grandstands, Friday, June 16, 2023. 

An excavator begins to demolish the Arlington Park grandstands in June.

Kevin Tanaka/For the Sun-Times

But facing pushback from nearby school districts that don’t want to see the team get the “property tax certainty” the Bears say they need to make that $5 billion investment — and that those school districts argue would leave them shortchanged — the team announced this summer that Arlington Heights was no longer its “singular focus” for a new stadium.

That prompted a stream of suburban stadium suitors to line up courting the team, including Naperville, Waukegan, Aurora and Richton Park.

A northwest suburban drive went three-and-out during the Illinois General Assembly’s spring session, when state Rep. Marty Moylan, D-Des Plaines, floated a measure that would freeze the property tax assessment for up to 40 years on the Arlington Heights property and allow the team to negotiate annual payments to local taxing districts. It would also create a $3 admission tax on all events held there.

The Bears took no official position on that legislation at the time, but called it an “excellent foundation.”

The measure never gained traction as state lawmakers from Chicago have shown little appetite for Bears incentives — especially while the city is still paying off debt from the oft-ridiculed 2002 renovation of Soldier Field. Those obligations are expected to total $660 million by 2032.

South Side state Sen. Robert Peters, whose district includes Soldier Field, has said team owners “owe a debt to the city and its taxpayers, who have been paying for their stadium.”

The Bears’ lease with the Chicago Park District runs for another decade. It would take at least a few years to build the domed stadium they covet.

The veto session is scheduled for Oct. 24-26 and Nov. 7-9.

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