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Chicago Bears unveil plan for new domed stadium on the lakefront

Bears announce $4.7 billion lakefront stadium project
Bears announce $4.7 billion lakefront stadium project 02:36

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The Chicago Bears on Wednesday unveiled their $4.7 billion plan for a new domed lakefront stadium complex, including added green space and other amenities on the Museum Campus.

The Bears provided the first renderings of what they are calling a "state-of-the-art, publicly owned enclosed stadium" along the lakefront on the site of what is currently a parking garage and lots for Soldier Field.

Bears president Kevin Warren said the new stadium would have a fixed dome that would allow the city to host Super Bowls, World Cup soccer, NCAA Final Four games, Big Ten championship games, and even local or state high school football championship games. The new stadium also would allow for the Bears to host more concerts, and potentially even have musicians use the stadium for weeks-long concert residencies.

"This Museum Campus is the most attractive footprint in the world," he said.    

Since taking over as Bears president last year, Warren has shifted the team's focus from building a new stadium in Arlington Heights to keeping them on the lakefront in Chicago.

The Bears spent almost $200 million more than a year ago to buy the site of the Arlington International Racecourse from Churchill Downs in Arlington Heights. However, plans for a $5 billion stadium complex on that 326-acre site have stalled after the team wasn't able to reach an agreement over property taxes with local schools in the area.

Rendering of the Chicago Bears' proposal for a new domed stadium south of their current home at Soldier Field. Chicago Bears/Manica

The proposed lakefront stadium would have a transparent ETFE plastic roof similar to those at other recently built NFL facilities – including SoFi Stadium, Allegiant Stadium, and U.S. Bank Stadium, which Warren helped the Vikings build in Minneapolis.

Warren said the Bears considered a retractable roof for the new stadium plan, but that would add another couple hundred million dollars to construction costs, so they decided on a fixed translucent dome to let in a large amount of natural sunlight.

Renderings show the north end of the stadium would have a glass or plastic wall providing a view of the Chicago skyline and lakefront.

Chicago Bears unveil massive lakefront stadium plan 02:20

Warren said the new stadium would include replacing Soldier Field with additional parks and public sports fields, while preserving the stadium's iconic colonnades, which were built as a war memorial for American veterans.

The project also would create new retail and hospitality offerings around the new stadium, while improving public access to the surrounding lakefront, according to Warren.

However, with the new stadium being built on the site of Soldier Field's existing lots, and Soldier Field being replaced with a park and public sporting fields, it's unclear how or if the Bears plan to replace the lost parking. Public transportation to Bears games is difficult, with the closest CTA train station a walk of more than a mile away. While some CTA bus lines do make stops at Soldier Field, those buses are typically delayed by the heavy traffic on DuSable Lake Shore Drive on game days.

Rendering of the Chicago Bears' proposal for a new domed stadium south of their current home at Soldier Field. Chicago Bears/Manica

Questions remain about financing for new stadium

The plan will ask taxpayers to kick in half of the costs of the overall project; which includes a $3.2 billion domed stadium and $1.5 billion in infrastructure improvements on the Museum Campus, where Soldier Field is located.

The Bears are planning to contribute $2.3 billion, including a $300 million loan from the NFL, to the $3.2 billion cost of the stadium, and will seek $900 million in public funding through 40-year bonds issued by the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority, which helped fund the 2002 renovation of Soldier Field, as well as the construction and renovations of Guaranteed Rate Field, the home of the White Sox. 

The $900 million in public funding for the stadium would come from an existing 2% hotel tax that already goes to the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority. The Bears also would ask to refinance existing debt from the prior work at Soldier Field and Guaranteed Rate Field as part of that plan.

That funding plan would require approval from the Illinois General Assembly, but both Gov. JB Pritzker and top legislative leaders have said they're not yet on board.

Experts, officials concerned about public funding for proposed new Bears stadium 03:20

Taxpayers also would be asked to pay for the proposed $1.5 billion infrastructure improvements needed for the construction of the new stadium, and to modernize the surrounding Museum Campus on the lakefront – including improved public transportation, roads, and utilities; additional parking, public parks and public sports fields; and public restrooms, food, and beverage options in the area around the stadium.

City officials said they would seek to tap possible federal funding for the infrastructure work, and would work with state and city leaders to identify other possible funding sources.

Warren said he's hoping to get approval of the financing plan from the Illinois General Assembly this spring, and to begin construction in the summer of 2025. The Bears hope to open a new stadium by 2028, and continue playing games in Soldier Field throughout construction of their new home.

"This is one of the biggest private investments into a public-owned facility in the state's history," said Karen Murphy, executive vice president of stadium development for the Bears.

Rendering of the Chicago Bears' proposal for a new domed stadium south of their current home at Soldier Field. Chicago Bears/Manica

Mayor hails Bears' plan for improving Museum Campus around stadium

Mayor Brandon Johnson, who has thrown his support behind the Bears' plans, praised it as "one of the largest private investments in our city's history." 

"This plan not only envisions a new domed stadium, but it reimagines the entire Museum Campus in a way that truly aligns with the historic Burnham Plan," Johnson said, referring to architect Daniel Burnham's vision for an open lakefront

While during his campaign for mayor, Johnson said he did not support taxpayer subsidies to keep the Bears in Chicago, he said Wednesday he is backing the Bears' plan because it does not include any tax increases or new taxes, just the use of existing taxes.

"For any new development project at the lakefront, we required real private investment, real public use, and real economic participation for the entire city. Today's announcement delivers on all three," Johnson said.

Warren and Johnson claimed the project would create $8 billion in economic impact for the city, including about 43,000 construction jobs, and 4,200 new permanent jobs for the Chicago area, along with improvements to the overall Museum Campus.

Rendering of the Chicago Bears' proposal for a new domed stadium south of their current home at Soldier Field. Chicago Bears/Manica

Gov. JB Pritzker "skeptical" about providing public financing

Johnson has made it clear he wants to keep the team in the city, but the Bears' plan is certain to meet political resistance. Gov. JB Pritzker has said he's willing to consider the Bears' plans, but has voiced reluctance to provide public funding for the project.

"I remain skeptical about this proposal, and I wonder whether it's a good deal for the taxpayers," Pritzker said Wednesday morning at an unrelated event before the Bears' formal announcement. "It's very important to me that, with all that the state needs to accomplish, that we think about what the priorities are of the state."

Pritzker also noted that public financing for stadium deals has become more unpopular in recent years, pointing to Missouri voters earlier this month rejecting a proposed sales tax hike to help fund renovations to Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, just months after the Chiefs won their third Super Bowl in five years.

"I think this is, you know, a recognition that these are private businesses; that the owners of these private businesses need to put a lot more forward in order to … have their dreams fulfilled, and not just rely upon the taxpayers of Illinois to make that happen for them," he said. "Having said that, I think all of us want success for the state. We want more commerce. We want more jobs. We want our teams to be successful. So, you know, we share all of that in common, but we've got to use our dollars wisely."

  Rendering of the Chicago Bears' proposal for a new domed stadium south of their current home at Soldier Field. Chicago Bears/Manica

Illinois Senate President Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) and Illinois House Speaker Emanuel "Chris" Welch (D-Hillside) also cast doubt on the Bears' plan.

"At first glance, more than $2 billion in private funding is better than zero and a more credible opening offer. But there's an obvious, substantial gap remaining, and I echo the governor's skepticism," Harmon said in a statement.

A spokesperson for Welch said the speaker was encouraged by the private funding the Bears have proposed for their stadium plan, but also seemed skeptical of approving public financing. 

"In the current legislative environment, with many important budget pressures, there hasn't been a strong appetite for these projects. Environments can and do often change in Springfield, but the Speaker's priority is to stay focused on passing a balanced budget and continuing the positive outlook we saw announced by Moody's yesterday," Welch spokesperson Jaclyn Driscoll said, referring to Moody's Ratings' upgrade of the state's credit outlook.

Bears unveil new plans for new stadium on Chicago lakefront; some have doubts 03:22

The nonprofit group Friends of the Parks also has opposed building a new Bears stadium on the lakefront, citing the city's Lakefront Protection Ordinance, which prohibits further private development east of DuSable Lake Shore Drive.

Friends of the Parks blasted the Bears' stadium plan on Wednesday afternoon, saying, "The 'Chicago Way' was on full display" at their news conference to announce the project.

"We are told that a new domed stadium on protected lakefront land will make Chicago a great city. We are already a great city—in large part due to our protected lakefront. As is so often the case in Chicago, the powerful and wealthy are demanding that our entire city stop and fast track their plans to expand operations on the people's lakefront," the group added. "We are all being asked to trust the process and accept that it will, in fact, be Bear-a-dice. Yet, Chicago has a long history of, closed-door planning and rushed decision-making that does not end well for taxpayers."

Friends of the Parks also said that many other parks in the city have been waiting for years for investments and improvements.

"Does it seem reasonable that the Chicago Bears should get their wants satisfied immediately while poor neighborhoods suffer from benign neglect?" the group added.

In 2016, the Friends of the Parks went to court to block filmmaker George Lucas' plan to build a museum on the same site the Bears are now targeting for a new stadium. After a federal judge delivered an early victory to Friends of the Parks in their lawsuit, Lucas decided to build his museum in Los Angeles instead.

Rendering of the Chicago Bears' proposal for a new domed stadium south of their current home at Soldier Field. Chicago Bears/Manica

"This is not an easy project, but Chicago doesn't like it easy"  

Johnson shrugged off concerns about whether the project would stand up to a potential court challenge over compliance with the city's Lakefront Protection Ordinance.

"With 20% more open space that will be available for the people of Chicago, this is very much aligned with Daniel Burnham's vision for the lakefront," he said.

Warren also said he's confident the Bears can work together with Johnson and other local leaders to get the project done.

"This is not an easy project, but Chicago doesn't like it easy. We like to do the difficult things. We like to do the things that resonate with people for generations to come. It's time for us to do something special together," Warren said.

Rendering of the Chicago Bears' proposal for a new domed stadium south of their current home at Soldier Field. Chicago Bears/Manica
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