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Chicago Bears look for public financing in building a new stadium

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(The Center Square) – The Chicago Bears on Wednesday unveiled details about a proposed new stadium complex on the lakefront in which the NFL team will seek taxpayer funding, something that is not sitting well with Illinois’ governor and legislative leaders.

The team is planning to build a state-of-the-art, domed lakefront stadium near Soldier Field, its current stadium. The Bears said they’d provide over $2 billion for the project, which they said would cover over 70% of the costs. But projections put the total price tag at around $4.7 billion.

The Bears said the project would create 43,000 temporary construction jobs and generate $8 billion in economic impact. Such economic impact numbers provided by other major professional sports teams have been challenged and often debunked in other regions of the country.

Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson was on hand with the Bears for the announcement and said the stadium complex could host numerous events.

“Including Chicago Public School championships, graduations, major concerts, the Final Four, Big Ten Championship, my next inauguration, I don’t know, we will just keep adding to it,” said Johnson.

At an unrelated event Wednesday, Gov. J.B. Pritzker was asked about the prospect of taxpayers helping build a new stadium.

“I just think that the taxpayers’ dollars need to be protected and I think it’s my job to be a good steward of those dollars,” said Pritzker.

Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, issued a statement regarding the Chicago Bears’ stadium proposal.

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

To make the plan a reality, the Bears want the Illinois General Assembly to approve $1.5 billion in new bonding for the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority.

House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside, said the request would have little chance.

“If we were to put this issue on the board for a vote right now, it would fail and it would fail miserably,” Welch said. “There’s no environment for something like this today.”

Taxpayers still owe more than $600 million for past renovations of Soldier Field and Guaranteed Rate Field, whose occupants, the White Sox, also are looking to build a new stadium with help from taxpayers.

The Bears purchased the former Arlington National Racecourse property for a possible site for a new stadium, but negotiations fell through. Arlington Heights officials said they will be ready and waiting if the Bears change their minds.

Greg Bishop contributed to this report.