Johnson renews pitch to keep Bears in Chicago

NFL team had previously planned to relocate to Arlington Heights

Mayor Brandon Johnson and Soldier Field
Mayor Brandon Johnson and Soldier Field (Getty)

Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson wants to keep the city’s NFL team in Chicago. 

The mayor met with Chicago Bears’ president and CEO on Wednesday, the same day Johnson said during an unrelated news conference about wanting to keep the Bears in the city, despite moves the team has made in recent months to find a new home with additional tax breaks, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Neither party released specifics of any proposals or costs associated with keeping the team in Chicago.

The Bears and Johnson did release a joint statement on Wednesday, however, that emphasized the team’s long history in Chicago.

“Today we met and discussed our shared values and commitment to the city of Chicago, the importance of deep roots and the need for equitable community investment throughout the city,” the statement said. “We are both committed to the idea that the city and its major civic institutions must grow and evolve together to meet the needs of the future. We look forward to continuing the dialogue around these shared values.”

The Bears have been floating the idea of a new home for more than a year, as the team first announced it was exploring relocating to Arlington Heights.

Despite the team previously saying its sole focus was tearing down the Arlington International Racecourse to redevelop the former horse track into a stadium and surrounding entertainment district over a yearslong effort that would cost $5 billion, last week the Bears held meetings with leadership in Naperville, too. The idea of putting a stadium in Naperville instead started to be discussed after the Bears raised concerns with a reassessment of the racetrack’s property tax value that exponentially increased its tax bill, following the team’s purchase of the property for $197 million from Churchill Downs.

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The team scored a temporary agreement with Cook County officials to lower the tax bill for the upcoming year to $7.8 million, down from the more than $16 million the Bears would have had to pay under the new assessment. But the Bears said the agreement still makes the property more costly to hold than is ideal for the redevelopment project, and they’re open to exploring other options outside Arlington Heights.

Much of the team’s concerns stem from an aging home at Chicago’s Soldier Field, currently the smallest and oldest stadium in the NFL, with a capacity of 61,500. The stadium is also aging. Built in 1924, its last renovation was in 2002 — a renovation criticized in some circles, that was followed by the building getting delisted as a National Historic Landmark in 2006.

It’s unclear what the city could or would be able to offer the Bears to stay, but it would likely require additional tax money in the way of improvements or upgrades to Soldier Field or an entirely new stadium. 

The Arlington Heights deal is also not completely off the table, as executives from the team plan to meet with about 300 people in Arlington Heights at an invitation-only meeting in the coming weeks, the Tribune reported.

“We will hear directly from [Chicago Bears President] Kevin Warren on his experience with stadium development and what it’s going to take to make Arlington Park the home of the Chicago Bears,” a meeting announcement stated.

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