Chicago Bears

Chicago Bears plan new domed stadium south of Soldier Field: Source

The news comes nearly 13 months after the team bought property in Arlington Heights, Ill.

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The Chicago Bears' push to build a new stadium has shifted focus to a publicly-owned domed stadium on Museum Campus, near Soldier Field on the city's lakefront, according to a source familiar with the plan.

The Bears plan to invest more than $2 billion of private funding into the project, which would also increase open space in the area by 20%, the source said.

That open space would include plazas, paths, landscaped areas, lakefront access and more. That effort -- creating more public spaces in the redevelopment of the area -- appears aimed at placating preservation group Friends of the Parks, which successfully sued to prevent George Lucas from building a museum along the lakefront and has previously voiced opposition to the team's construction of any new stadium project on Museum Campus.

A source familiar with the Bears' plan cited a poll showing 66% of Chicago residents in support of a Museum Campus stadium over the team moving to the city's suburbs. Previously, a suburban move was long the Bears' focus, as they purchased 326 acres in Arlington Heights in February 2023 with the intent to develop a stadium district on the site.

Bears President and CEO Kevin Warren confirmed the team's new intent to stay in Chicago in a statement, saying the team is "committed to contributing over $2 billion to build a stadium and improve open spaces for all families, fans and the general public to enjoy in the City of Chicago."

"The future stadium of the Chicago Bears will bring a transformative opportunity to our region -- boosting the economy, creating jobs, facilitating mega events and generating millions in tax revenue," Warren continued. "We look forward to sharing more information when our plans are finalized."

MORE: Where will the Bears' new Chicago stadium be?

Monday morning, Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson released a statement about the Bears' new plan.

"I have said all along that meaningful private investment and a strong emphasis on public benefit are my requirements for public-private partnerships in our city," the statement reads in part. "The Chicago Bears plans are a welcome step in that direction and a testament to Chicago’s economic vitality."

The full statement can be found below:

I have said all along that meaningful private investment and a strong emphasis on public benefit are my requirements for public-private partnerships in our city. The Chicago Bears plans are a welcome step in that direction and a testament to Chicago’s economic vitality. 

I look forward to subsequent talks with the Bears, State leadership and community stakeholders about how we can continue to responsibly support the aspirations of the team, its fans and all residents of the City of Chicago.

It's not yet clear what the total cost of the development may be, or from where the rest of the funding for the project will come. The shift in focus comes shortly after Illinois lawmakers instructed the Bears and the Chicago White Sox -- also seeking public dollars for a new stadium -- to work together to come up with one proposal for state funding.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker late last month cast doubt on the appetite for much public funding for either stadium.

"Stadium projects around the country have occurred with public dollars, fewer and fewer over the years and there's a reason for that," Pritzker said when asked about the teams' efforts, "that the return on investment for taxpayers has to be proven now before we would actually move forward. I have not seen proof that this is a good deal for the taxpayers of the state of Illinois, but they have not presented that case yet."

Complicating the ask for public funding is the money still owed on both teams' stadiums. The Illinois Sport Facilities Authority, which issued bonds for the construction of both stadiums, owes $589 million on the 2002 renovation of Soldier Field and $50 million on Guaranteed Rate, which opened in 1991. Those bonds are paid in part through the state's 2% hotel tax, but if those revenues can’t make the multi-million dollar payments, Chicago’s share of the state income tax picks up the shortfall. Guaranteed Rate’s bonds are slated to be paid off in 2029, while the Soldier Field deal runs through 2032.

The Bears' shift in direction also comes less than three weeks after the Cook County Board of Review issued its ruling in a lengthy dispute over the team's property taxes for that Arlington Heights site.

As the Bears were in the process of purchasing the site that once held the Arlington International Racecourse for $197 million, the Cook County Assessor increased the value of the property from $33 million to roughly that purchase price.

The Bears appealed that valuation and contended the property was worth $60 million. Three area school districts, which rely on property taxes for their funding, intervened in the appeal, arguing it was worth $160 million.

When the two sides could not reach an agreement, the Board of Review ruled late last month that the property is worth just under $125 million, leaving the team with a tax bill somewhere in the neighborhood of $9 million.

The Bears had hoped to build a multi-billion dollar stadium district in Arlington Heights, with restaurants, retail, residential real estate and more. But the team had long said they needed two things to build there: property tax "certainty" and public funding for infrastructure like roads and sewers.

The property tax dispute was one factor in putting a stadium in Chicago back on the table. Another was last year's election of Mayor Brandon Johnson, who publicly stated he was interested in keeping the Bears in the city.

He and Warren met shortly after Johnson was sworn into office, promising a "regular dialogue" as they continued to negotiate.

While Johnson's predecessor Mayor Lori Lightfoot also expressed interest in keeping the Bears in Chicago, emails obtained by NBC Chicago Investigates showed an acrimonious relationship between the team and Chicago Park District officials in her administration. Much of the frustration stemmed from the city's refusal to consider a sportsbook at Soldier Field, among other disputes.

The Bears do still own the Arlington Heights property. They pay more than $6 million a year to play at Soldier Field, according to their lease, which runs through the end of the 2033 season.

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