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Mayor and Bears Unpack a New Stadium Deal

Updated: May 6

The Chicago Bears and Mayor Johnson held a joint press conference to unveil a plan to spend more than $1 billion in taxpayer funds on yet another stadium project for the team. The expected cost for a new stadium is $4.7 Billion. This Mayor was elected on a platform centered around investing in the City’s South and West sides and creating a more equitable City for the benefit of all Chicagoans. 


Instead of delivering on this promise he has co opted himself into supporting a massive billion-dollar plus taxpayer subsidy for the benefit of the Chicago Bears’ owners. 

There have been no meetings with the City Council to discuss the possibility of city taxpayers funding for the Bears stadium. Governor Pritzker and Speaker Welch both spoke to the public about this press conference indicating there is no appetite for the funding demand in Springfield. 


Instead of collaborating with city, park district, county, state and federal stakeholders on a plan for the future of Soldier Field, the Mayor has decided to unilaterally throw his support behind yet another taxpayer funded stadium plan before the debt supporting the last plan for the Bears has even come close to being paid for.  Presently, the outstanding debt for Soldier Field’s 2003 renovation for the Bears is more than $620 million, and there’s also about $50 million in debt for the Guaranteed Rate Field renovations.

 

Mayor Johnson said giving more than a billion dollars of public tax revenue into this project amounted to economic development. What it does is generate debt and debt service. It matters how the City decides to invest its taxpayer dollars. Rather than investing in healthier, vibrant, equitable neighborhoods, schools, public safety, or parks he is advocating for handing it over to the owners of the City’s football team. The purported economic impact from this new plan of $8 billion is just as ludicrous as it sounds. These impact studies are known in the world of economics as garbage in garbage out models that are paid for with the implicit understanding that their sole function is to justify spending public resources for private benefit. 


The lakefront has been and should be an amenity for all Chicagoans and those who visit our City. The Bears plan doubles down on the use of this public space for their private benefit. The transportation challenges that currently plague Soldier Field are only intensified by this plan and moving roads and traffic signals will not meaningfully improve access. The museums suffer each day there is a spectator event at this site, as potential patrons avoid the area due to inevitable traffic gridlock. Nothing in the plan presented earlier today addresses this fundamental flaw.


Equally important as what was said at the Bears’ press conference is what wasn’t said. The public tax revenue that they are asking for comes from hotel taxes that, in the words of the City’s Chief Financial Officer, are volatile. When the revenue from this volatile tax falls short of projections the City’s general fund will make up for the shortfall. This means less funds available for core public services including education, public safety, infrastructure and more. These same hotel taxes were used to fund the ill-fated renovation the Bears did to Soldier Field 20 years ago. The City taxpayer has repeatedly had to cover revenue shortfalls as this hotel tax revenue fell short of projections. Considering how poorly this investment turned out how can we possibly support yet another massive public subsidy to the same sports franchise? 


The question is what are our highest core concerns and priorities. Do we need to divert federal, state and city dollars to a new stadium that has been proclaimed the top priority by one official? What promises have been made that the public needs to know? 


Beyond the simple question of priorities, there are dozens of questions that were not addressed or asked and avoided by the press conference promoters. Those questions will be put to the Mayor’s office. 


In the meantime, former Governor Quinn has joined the list of citizens submitting referendums. His submission the City Clerk last month hopes to ask taxpayers on the November election ballot the question:

“Shall the people of Chicago pay any taxpayer subsidies to the Chicago Bears or Chicago White Sox in order to build a new stadium or new real estate development?”


I’ll update you on this as we learn more about what the plans are from city hall. 

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