Considering New Stadium Options, Bears Restart Dialogue with Johnson

A rendering of an aerial view of the Chicago Bears property in Arlington Heights. (Courtesy of Hart Howerton / Chicago Bears)A rendering of an aerial view of the Chicago Bears property in Arlington Heights. (Courtesy of Hart Howerton / Chicago Bears)

Mayor Brandon Johnson and Chicago Bears President Kevin Warren met Wednesday, a clear sign that relations between the city and the Monsters of the Midway have thawed, which may set the stage for talks to keep the team in Chicago, if not at Soldier Field.

Thanks to our sponsors:

View all sponsors

News of the meeting came hours after Johnson told reporters that he was open to having conversations with team officials, who announced Friday that they were no longer singularly focused on building a stadium on the former Arlington Heights racetrack, which the Bears purchased for $197.2 million in February.

“I grew up with the ‘Super Bowl Shuffle.’ As I would say, as older people would say to young people, when I was young, ’85 Bears, Super Bowl shuffle, y’all don’t know nothing about that,” Johnson said after celebrating the last day of school at Orr Community Academy on Wednesday. “We want to make sure we can keep shuffling here in the city of Chicago with the Bears.”

However, the joint statement from Johnson and Warren contained no specifics about whether the team was open to remaining at Soldier Field — its home of 51 years — or wanted the city’s help finding a new location in Chicago to build a domed stadium and entertainment district, as it plans to do in Arlington Heights.

Warren has also met with Naperville Mayor Scott Werhli about building a new stadium for the Bears, and Rockford officials have said they are also interested.

“Today, we met and discussed our shared values and commitment to the City of Chicago, the importance of deep roots, and the need for equitable community investment throughout the city,” according to statement from Johnson and Warren. “We are both committed to the idea that the city and its major civic institutions must grow and evolve together to meet the needs of the future. We look forward to continuing the dialogue around these shared values.”

Johnson told reporters he was “the hardest-working person in the city of Chicago” and would negotiate with “care, sensitivity and thoughtfulness.”

“I want to make sure the ownership of the Chicago Bears, the Park District and the residents of the city of Chicago have a real seat at the table to discuss a pathway forward,” Johnson said, nodding to the fact that the Chicago Park District owns Soldier Field.

Relations between former Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the Bears organization broke down after news surfaced of their interest in Arlington Heights and the then-mayor dismissed it as a “negotiating tactic” and urged the team “to focus on putting a winning team on the field, beating the Packers and finally being relevant past October.”

Representatives of the Bears have yet to answer questions about whether they would consider remaining at Soldier Field past 2033, when their lease with the Chicago Park District expires. The Bears pay $6.48 million annually to use Soldier Field, and can terminate that agreement early as long as the team pays a penalty.

The Bears have long wanted to own their own home turf that will allow them to maxmize revenue — and play under a dome.

Team officials said their plan to build a new stadium in Arlington Heights is “at risk” because Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi set the 2022 value of the 309-acre former racetrack at $197 million, approximately $200,000 less than what the team paid for it. That represented a significant increase from the property’s $33 million assessment in 2021, and ensured that the Bears were facing a massive, and unanticipated, property tax bill.

The property’s former owner, Churchill Downs, appealed that assessment to the Cook County Board of Review, telling officials that property was worth $37 million. In turn, several local school districts objected to that valuation and urged officials to set the property’s value at $150 million.

Those school districts, which includes Palatine’s Community Consolidated School District 15, are set to see their coffers swell along with the value of the former racetrack, since that will determine how much the Bears pay in property taxes.

Cook County Board of Review Commissioner Samantha Steele announced Thursday that her office had brokered an agreement with Churchill Downs and the school districts to value the property at $95 million in 2022. That valuation is still too high, Bears officials said.

In July, Lightfoot unveiled plans that would build a dome over Soldier Field and expand its seating capacity, and offered to use at least some taxpayer money to fund the renovations, which could cost as much as $2.2 billion.

Efforts by the team to convince state officials to subsidize the proposed Arlington Heights development, which includes shops, restaurants and event venues, have so far been unsuccessful.

Solider Field opened in 1924, and was last renovated in 2003 under a plan approved by former Mayor Richard M. Daley after the last time the Bears threatened to leave the city. That project was funded with $660 million in bonds that are being paid off with taxes paid by city hotels.

Approximately $415 million of that debt remained on the books of the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority in 2022, records show.

A plan for the future of the Museum Campus, crafted by a working group formed by Lightfoot, envisioned Soldier Field and the entire Museum Campus as an essential destination for tourists and a hub for residents.

Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]

Thanks to our sponsors:

View all sponsors

Thanks to our sponsors:

View all sponsors