For some of the challengers for Chicago mayor, the departure of the Bears is a foregone conclusion. Some want to keep the team but have offered few specifics. Some have given an emphatic “no” to the use of city tax dollars. And then there’s the problem of what to do with a Bear-less Soldier Field.
At a forum in December, three candidates — Paul Vallas, Ja’Mal Green and 6th Ward Ald. Roderick Sawyer — quipped that the city should just let its NFL team go. Green elaborated that the next mayor should focus on revitalizing Soldier Field by “maybe a couple of $100 million” so it can be leased for college sports or to another NFL team.
Candidate Willie Wilson, on the other hand, deflected and said: “That depends on whether they got a contract or not. … What I would do, I’ll buy another team in Chicago.”
Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson said, “Let’s keep them,” while state Rep. Kambium “Kam” Buckner and 4th Ward Ald. Sophia King signaled there should be efforts to keep the Bears, but under certain conditions.
Buckner said he “would hope” to keep the Bears, but if they pack up and leave, the next mayor should focus on transforming the lakefront Soldier Field into a “space that speaks to the future of what Chicago is going to be.” Meanwhile, King advocated for the state to front any deal that would keep the Bears in Chicago.
“We should definitely try again and keep the Bears,” King said. “The funding for the state is there. It’s got to come from the state. I think if it goes anywhere, it should go to the city.”
The prospect of the Bears leaving their iconic lakefront stadium in favor of Arlington Heights, and what would then happen to Soldier Field, is a challenge the next mayor of Chicago will invariably have to tackle.
Buckner, who played college football for the University of Illinois, was vocal on Twitter this fall about how the Bears must not take a single “public dime no matter what” as negotiations continue.
He released a statement decrying the team’s request for public subsidies to move, saying it was a “plan to put their profits over the people” as he recounted how Chicago taxpayers gave the team $432 million for stadium upgrades back in 2002. For the team to ask for public money now to leave Chicago is just greedy, Buckner argued.
“Springfield has done the tough work of moving the State to financial solvency and dealing with the issues that affect the everyday lives of our 12.8 million residents,” Buckner wrote. “Giving the Bears another gift-wrapped subsidy should not be on our list of priorities.”
More recently, when a developer on Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s task force on Soldier Field and the museum campus released a “video tour” of a “reimagined” stadium, Buckner criticized it as means to shake loose billions of dollars in public subsidies for the developer’s mammoth One Central plan nearby.
“Like any native Chicagoan, I want to always watch Chicago Bears football in Soldier Field. But this feels like a last-ditch to save both a faltered Mayoral Administration and a tenuous project … that still has more questions than it does answers,” wrote Buckner, whose state House district includes the stadium.
Johnson said in a statement that as a fan, he’d prefer that the team stay, but “due in part to the defiant nature of the Lightfoot administration, that relationship has soured and their departure seems all but assured.”
Lightfoot has proposed a $2.2 billion stadium renovation that would include adding a dome. When she made the proposal, Lightfoot did not say how she would secure funding for the stadium.
Johnson said that money would be better used if it were channeled “back into our communities” for such needs as removing lead pipes, addressing homelessness and paying down debts “all of which would also generate economic and quality-of-life returns for the people of this city.”
Another candidate in the Feb. 28 election, U.S. Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García, said in a statement any Soldier Field solution would have to be reached “collaboratively” without placing “an additional tax burden on Chicago residents so we can make critical investments in public safety and our communities.” He did not elaborate on other potential uses for Soldier Field.
García, too, placed the blame for the team’s exit on Lightfoot’s combative style.
“At the core, the problem here has been a non-working relationship between City officials and the Bears,” he said. “If people do not feel like they are engaged in good faith negotiations, they will leave. We are seeing those consequences.”
In a tweet back in July, Vallas dinged Lightfoot on her Soldier Field overhaul plan: “Bears are gone. @chicagosmayor had 3 yrs to get a plan at no cost to city but waited to last min. Her Soldier Field plan amounts to spending $2.2 billion to build a taxpayer subsidized stadium anchored by a soccer team.”
Another tweet from Vallas a month earlier directed more of the ire at the NFL team: “20 years after BEARS forced taxpayers to subsidize $660 million spaceship lakefront stadium ($1 bi. in current dollars), Bears going to shake down city again, hinting at move to Arlington Heights. If Bears move to Arlington, demand TAXPAYER REFUND & call them the Arlington Bears,” Vallas wrote.