Mayor Lori Lightfoot says Bears will end up where they started: at renovated Soldier Field

Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who has been barred until now from talking with the Chicago Bears about staying at Soldier Field, sees an avenue to communicate with the team.

SHARE Mayor Lori Lightfoot says Bears will end up where they started: at renovated Soldier Field

Mayor Lori Lightfoot has proposed putting a dome over a renovated and enlarged Soldier Field. There could also be sponsorship opportunities for areas inside the stadium. “I’m excited for the opportunity for us to make the business case to have the Bears stay in our city.” Lightfoot said.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Thursday that she believes the Bears will end up right where they started — staying put at a renovated, domed Soldier Field — even after spending $197.2 million to acquire the Arlington International Racecourse site.

Until now, the Bears have been barred from talking to the city. So long as they had an option to purchase the 326-acre racecourse site, they were bound to negotiate exclusively with Arlington Heights.

Now that the land deal has gone through, Lightfoot said she has the “opportunity to more directly communicate” with the Bears.

“I’m excited for the opportunity for us to make the business case to have the Bears stay in our city. We’ve demonstrated that the number of opportunities that they’re gonna get — with the number of tourists that come to our city every year, the amount of additional revenue opportunities that can be generated from Soldier Field — those simply can’t be matched,” she said.

“We can, with retrofitting Soldier Field in some of the ways that we’ve talked about, really maximize the revenues for the Bears, significantly enhance the fan experience at Soldier Field. ... We want the Bears to remain the anchor tenant, and we’re gonna do everything we can to get them there.”

Last summer, Lightfoot offered to put a dome over a renovated, and somewhat enlarged Soldier Field, at a potential cost of $2.2 billion. It was widely viewed as the political version of a Hail Mary pass — a desperate attempt to keep the Bears in Chicago or save face if they leave for Arlington Heights.

At the time, the mayor said a portion of the cost would be paid for by selling naming rights “in a way that respects Soldier Field’s legacy as a war memorial by keeping Soldier in the name of the facility,” as the working group that Lightfoot charged with re-imagining the Museum Campus suggested in its 50-page report.

A top mayoral aide said there were sponsorship opportunities in other areas inside the stadium. If the Bears opt to stay, hundreds of millions of dollars in NFL “league financing” also could be made available along with “debt capacity.”

But Lightfoot refused to say how the rest of the money would be raised. She vowed then to launch a feasibility study, but she has not yet done so.

On Thursday, the mayor was asked once again whether she was “prepared to rule out a public subsidy” to keep the Bears in Chicago.

Less than two weeks before the mayoral election, Lightfoot refused to answer the question.

Instead, the mayor turned the tables on the Bears. She questioned how the family-owned team would manage to find the billions of dollars needed to build a new stadium in Arlington Heights or persuade suburban officials and the Illinois General Assembly to give the team the “property tax certainty” and infrastructure help needed to make construction of “a brand new stadium” financially feasible.

“If you look at, for example, SoFi stadium right outside of Los Angeles in Inglewood. If you look at the stadium that was built in Las Vegas. Those are $4 billion and $5 billion stadiums. The Bears haven’t even put a shovel in the ground yet for Arlington Heights. I don’t know where that money is going to come from,” Lightfoot said.

“You’ve seen the polling that says the people in the village of Arlington Heights are all excited about it, but they don’t want to pay for it. We’ve seen at the state level there’s not an appetite for a state government-funded stadium. Legislation was passed in the last session that wouldn’t allow for a state subsidy for a team that moves from one location in Illinois to another location.”

Lightfoot said the McCaskey family that owns the Bears are “smart business people” who will evaluate the opportunities and, she hopes, reach the same conclusion that she has reached.

“My belief is that the best-case business scenario for them — having a great stadium, being truly in the best market for them in the country — is remaining at Soldier Field, working with us to modernize that stadium to meet their needs and to increase revenue opportunities, which I think are really boundless at Soldier Field,” she said.

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