Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot won’t rule out using public funds to keep the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field as the NFL team continues to pursue a new stadium in Arlington Heights.
Lightfoot made the comment at an unrelated news conference a day after the Bears paid $197 million for the 326-acre Arlington International Racecourse site, which they hope to transform into a modern stadium that can host marquee events including Super Bowls and NCAA Final Fours.
“I’ve been very clear from day one we want to do everything that we can to keep the Bears in Chicago,” Lightfoot said, repeating a line she frequently uses when discussing the stadium situation. “I think we can and will continue to make a very compelling business case.”
Although Lightfoot declined to offer specifics about how the team would try to woo the Bears, she suggested the team might run into financial problems as they pursue a deal in Arlington Heights. New stadiums in other cities have cost $4 billion to $5 billion and the Bears “haven’t even put a shovel into 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 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 and legislation was passed in the last session that wouldn’t allow for the state subsidy for a team that moves from one location in Illinois to another location.”
The Bears are smart businesspeople, Lightfoot said, and “the best-case business scenario for them … is remaining at Soldier Field, working with us to modernize that stadium, to meet their needs, and to increase (revenue).”
In dealing with the Bears’ potential move, Lightfoot faces a tough situation that’s largely out of her control but will nevertheless draw criticism of her combative style. The closing of the Bears’ deal to buy the former Arlington International racecourse property also comes at an inopportune time for the mayor, who’s in the midst of a tough bid for a second term, with Election Day less than two weeks away.
Realistically, there isn’t much Lightfoot can do to keep the Bears from exiting to the suburbs. If the team can pull together the financing it needs, it’s going to leave, and that has little to do with City Hall.
But Lightfoot has nevertheless attempted to make an argument that placing a dome over Soldier Field would make it a more attractive option for the Bears. Lightfoot has never said how the city would pay for the $2.2 billion proposal.