Pritzker Says He’s ‘Reluctant’ to Use Taxpayer Money to Help Build a New White Sox Stadium

A rendering of a proposed new White Sox stadium and surrounding development, including housing, at The 78 site. (Credit: Related Midwest)A rendering of a proposed new White Sox stadium and surrounding development, including housing, at The 78 site. (Credit: Related Midwest)

It’s not a slam dunk – or rather, a grand slam. But state assistance for stadiums seeking subsidies isn’t a total shutout either.

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Gov. J.B. Pritzker said he’s “reluctant” to use taxpayer funds to help the White Sox move from Bridgeport to the South Loop.

“I think I’ve been fairly clear about the fact that the taxpayers’ dollars are precious,” Pritzker said in response to a reporter’s question at an unrelated event. “And the idea of taking taxpayer dollars and subsidizing the building of a stadium as opposed to, for example, subsidizing the building of a birthing center, just to give the example, does not seem like the stadium ought to have higher priority.”

His example was topical. Pritzker made the statement during a Monday visit to the Chicago South Side Birth Center, which when opened will be the only freestanding birth center in that part of the city.

The Democratic governor, who last week introduced his proposed next budget, was there to highlight investments he wants to make in maternal health initiatives, including a hoped-for $4.4 million in grants for “community-based reproductive healthcare providers” to build facilities in under-resourced areas throughout Illinois.

Also last week, Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf visited Springfield to talk with top Illinois lawmakers about his plans to build a new stadium within the mixed-use development its investors call The 78 because they say it will be the city’s 78th neighborhood. It’s a large property abutting the South Branch of Chicago River and Roosevelt Road. 

Renderings show a glistening new stadium with skyline view seats and a huge digital screen/scoreboard, and people milling about a riverwalk.  Boats and paddle boarders dot the river.

“I think the pictures that we’ve all seen the drawings anyway in the newspaper are all terrific but again, that’s not enough to make it a priority in my view for Springfield,” the governor said.

Pritzker, who proclaimed himself a fan of the South Siders’ rival the Cubs, did not meet with Reinsdorf but said members of his staff got a presentation.

“The information that we’ve gotten so far is still very limited,” he said. “The ‘how the taxpayer is going to benefit from this’ still hasn’t been put forward to us. It’s just what the need is.”

Wrigley Field, where the Cubs play, underwent a privately funded extensive renovation from 2014-2019, but the project also benefited from a city tax break passed in 2013 and federal historic preservation tax credits.

The Chicago Bears have also lobbied the state for assistance as the team seeks to leave Soldier Field for a more modern, domed stadium likely in either Arlington Heights or somewhere else in the city. Initial attempts to secure tax benefits or incentives for the suburban move from Springfield in the spring 2023 session fizzled.

Pritzker, an heir to the Hyatt hotel fortune, pointed out that the teams are “private businesses.”

“We’ve seen other teams be able to support their own stadiums privately,” he said. “That’s that would be ideal here. And I think that’s something that I would encourage.”

For all his reluctance about a state subsidy for the Sox or Bears, Pritzker left open the possibility of an assist.

“I’m a fan of all of our teams and I want them to succeed,” he said.

Mayor Brandon Johnson last week also held off from a hard no. He said his administration has been “working very hard” to engage with the Bears and the Sox but that there were no specifics about financing.

He said his priority is on the public benefit.

“As far as financing these projects, both organizations know that they have to put some skin in the game. They’ve expressed a commitment to do that,” Johnson said. “We’re going to explore all options. But we have to make sure that we’re doing right by the people of Chicago. So, we’ll explore options. Everything is on the table here.”

Contact Amanda Vinicky: @AmandaVinicky[email protected]

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