The Bears unveil their plans for a new stadium, but will it fly?

For the second time in the past three years, the Chicago Bears held a news conference to unveil plans for a new stadium to replace their current home at Soldier Field. The Bears unveil their plans for a new stadium, but will it fly?

Unlike their November 2022 announcement, this time the plan calls for a move across the parking lot rather than 35 miles outside the city.

Bears president and CEO Kevin Warren — hired in 2023 to lead the Bears’ quest for a new facility after doing the same as the Vikings’ COO when they built U.S. Bank Stadium — led the news conference.  Warren detailed plans for a 77,000-seat, fully enclosed stadium on the current South parking lot site outside of Soldier Field.

The plans also call for 14 acres of sports fields and park spaces, new bike lanes, pedestrian paths and an open field for the public around the iconic colonnades lining the west side of Soldier Field.

According to Karen Murphy, the Bears’ executive vice president of stadium development, the budget to build the stadium alone is $3.2B, and the entire project — including infrastructure costs for the surrounding area — is $4.6B.

Murphy said the Bears are committed to contributing $2B toward the stadium by investing directly in the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority, a government entity created by the Illinois General Assembly in 1987 to build and renovate professional sports stadiums. They will also apply for a $300M NFL loan.  The other half of the cost would come from an existing 2% hotel tax that funds the ISFA.

The Chicago Park District would own the new stadium, as they do with the Bears current home, 100-year-old Soldier Field.

As we have learned from the last time the Bears unveiled plans for a new stadium, holding a news conference and showing exciting stadium renderings means little on its own.

In 2021, the Bears announced plans to pay $197.2M to acquire a 326-acre parcel on the site of the former Arlington Racetrack in west suburban Arlington Heights. This suburban site remained their sole focus for two years until property tax issues stemming from a dispute over the assessed value of the land proved insurmountable.

Chicago mayor Brandon Johnson supports the new plan, but Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker remains skeptical.

To get the $2.6B in public funding, the Bears will need new legislative approval from the General Assembly to authorize the ISFA to increase its borrowing limit and extend repayment over 40 years.

The ISFA still has $629M in debt, mainly from the 2003 Soldier Field renovation, and it could be a tough sell to ask lawmakers to quadruple that debt to finance a new stadium, which, while owned by the public, would primarily benefit the Bears.

Should everything go to plan, the Bears hope to have shovels in the ground by the summer of 2025, the stadium ready by 2028 and a Super Bowl in Chicago shortly thereafter.

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