Despite $1B cost, Mayor Brandon Johnson open to helping develop area around proposed Bears stadium on lake

Mayor Brandon Johnson has already cracked the door open to providing a public subsidy to build a new, $1.2 billion White Sox stadium in the South Loop, provided the team and its developer “put some skin in the game.”

On Thursday, he did the same for the Bears.

That’s despite the $1 billion price tag on the team’s ambitious plan to develop the land around a domed lakefront stadium with a hotel, sports museum and pedestrian bridge to Northerly Island. Plans also include expanding or moving exit ramps off DuSable Lake Shore Drive.

“We love the Bears in the city. … they’ve made a commitment to stay in Chicago,” Johnson said, adding that without the “great conversations” he’s had with Bears President Kevin Warren, that commitment to Chicago over a suburban site “was not something that was likely to happen.”

While there are still ongoing conversations “to make sure that the investments in the city of Chicago have public benefit,” Johnson said, “I can tell you this for sure: Whatever investment we make, the investment has to be committed to creating more housing, jobs [and] having a sustainable, clean economy. That’s what my administration has put forth and these are the conversations that we will continue to have before we make any further commitment.”

The Bears say they are prepared to invest more than $2 billion in private money in a domed stadium, but experts have said the stadium could cost $500 million to $1 billion more than that, and Warren has refused to say where money for those additional construction costs would come from.

Nor has he said whether tax-exempt public bonds would be used to finance the stadium, which public entity would issue those bonds, what tax would be used to back the bonds and who would be asked to pay the formidable cost of demolishing everything but the historic colonnades and war memorial at Soldier Field.

Friends of the Parks, which advocates for lakefront preservation, recently met with Bears officials and learned details of the potential development plans. But the team also hasn’t said how the development or needed infrastructure improvements would be paid for.

The financing plan for building a new White Sox stadium in the South Loop includes bonds backed by hotel taxes; part of the sales tax revenue generated within the project boundaries; and a $450 million subsidy from the tax increment financing district created to fund infrastructure improvements at the site.

Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th), Johnson’s hand-picked Education Committee chair, believes public subsidies for both new stadiums should be a non-starter.

“Hell no … We shouldn’t be giving them subsidies to do anything. They’re … billion-dollar franchises. They can afford it. Honestly, I’m really tired of all of them. They’re always coming to Chicago to beg,” Taylor told the Sun-Times.

“How much money [do] the Bears and the Sox invest back in the city? And I’m not talking about no damn free tickets. Help us build up some park districts. Adopt some of these schools. Help us have free programming in communities we know need it. At that point, maybe we can talk about some subsidies for them. But, until they come to the table with a package that we call can benefit from, they can take that somewhere else.”

Contributing: David Struett

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