Bears have had preliminary talks with Pritzker, lawmakers about subsidies — and no one has slammed the door, retiring team president says

Retiring Bears president Ted Phillips said the Bears have hired Goldman Sachs to “explore every possible option” and develop a “specific ask” of the village and state.

SHARE Bears have had preliminary talks with Pritzker, lawmakers about subsidies — and no one has slammed the door, retiring team president says
President of the Chicago Bears Ted Phillips, left, and Chairman of the Chicago Bears George McCaskey listen during a press conference Monday, Jan, 1, 2018, at Halas Hall in Lake Forest, Illinois.

Chicago Bears President Ted Phillips, left, and Chairman George McCaskey

Sun-Times file

The Chicago Bears have had preliminary talks with Gov. J.B. Pritzker, state legislators and village trustees in Arlington Heights about the infrastructure help they need to support a $5 billion “stadium-anchored development” and nobody has thrown them for a loss, retiring President Ted Phillips said Friday.

One day after a community meeting to lay the groundwork for a public subsidy, Phillips said the Bears have hired Goldman Sachs to “explore every possible option” and develop a “specific ask” of the village and state. Only then would a developer be chosen to partner with the Bears.

A tax increment financing district is one way to achieve the “property tax certainty” that Phillips called a precursor to going forward. It freezes property taxes for 23 years, during which any “increment,” or growth, is earmarked for roads, mass transit improvements and utility work.

But Phillips said there are other options. He refused to put a dollar figure on infrastructure work that will be needed to make the 326-acre site of the Arlington International Racecourse viable.

But the proposal for new entrances off Euclid Avenue and off-ramps from Route 53 running beneath Northwest Highway would surely drive the price tag well over $100 million.

“This is not just plopping a stadium on a plot of land. … It is a stadium-anchored development. But there’s so much more to this. And that’s a big reason why the infrastructure makes sense,” Phillips said.

“This isn’t going forward without a public-private partnership working together on making the infrastructure happen. It’s as simple as that. It’s not a threat. It’s about looking at the financial feasibility. ... We need to have a smart plan for infrastructure. ... And we need some property tax certainty. We’re not looking to not pay property taxes. The reality is, we will pay more than what the site paid in property taxes when it was a racetrack.”

The preliminary talks with Pritzker, local lawmakers and village trustees were aimed at “understanding the political climate” and “what makes sense” in terms of a state and local contribution.

“We don’t have a specific ask. ... We’re working on that. … We’re just asking everyone to be open-minded. To not jump to conclusions and give us a chance to make our case. And I would say, 100% everyone said, `We understand what you’re telling us,’” Phillips said.

Asked whether any officials slammed the door on public funding, Phillips said: “Nobody did. Everybody said they appreciated being brought up to speed on our preliminary plans. And that’s all we wanted to accomplish. We’re gonna be transparent. That’s how we got the Soldier Field renovation done. ... What it took was Mayor Daley developing some trust,” Phillips said.

“The Bears have to show, `Here’s the public benefit. Here’s the economic impact. Here’s the jobs that will be created.’ ... If you can do that in a way where you’re working together, then … a public subsidy commensurate with the potential huge economic boon to the region and to the state makes it worthwhile.”

Phillips, who has served as the Bears’ president and CEO since 1999, will retire in February.

The now 20-year-old renovation of Soldier Field is the crowning achievement of Phillips’ 40-year career with the Bears.

He managed to deliver what his predecessor Michael McCaskey could not during years of public feuding with former Mayors Harold Washington, Eugene Sawyer and Richard M. Daley. The $660 million project was bankrolled by bonds that won’t be fully repaid until 2032.

On Friday, Phillips argued that the “financial deal” that he cut for the Bears at a renovated Soldier Field has “worked relatively well” for the team. That’s why the team was not “proactively looking for a new stadium” when Churchill Downs put the Arlington Park racecourse site up for sale.

But Phillips argued that Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s $2.2 billion plan to put a dome on Soldier Field does not solve the stadium’s inherent problems of ingress/egress; tight concourses; a shortage of restrooms, parking, tailgating space and “points of sale”; and a “tight” lakefront site that precludes further development. And since the Bears are tenants, they do not control a stadium owned by the Chicago Park District that has other tenants and conflicts.

“It was complicated enough just due to concerts and international soccer games and college football games. Now, layer in the Chicago Fire and their season and the needs that they have. It makes it difficult. Everyone’s trying to do their best to make it work. But it’s not ideal,” Phillips said.

“There are certain things that can’t be solved with a dome — assuming that can even happen. ... It’s in a spectacular setting on the lake with the skyline of the city north of it. But that also comes with the difficulty of getting in and out. It’s become harder and harder ... for fans ... to want to travel to Soldier Field. It adds to a very long day when you have traffic issues like that.”

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