Lightfoot: We'll make a 'far greater' economic case for the Bears than Arlington Heights can

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Thursday questioned if Arlington Heights taxpayers are willing to spend "billions" to pay for a Chicago Bears stadium and reiterated that she's going to give the team's owners a compelling economic case to stay in the city.

The mayor made her latest comments about the NFL franchise's potential city-to-suburbs relocation as she talked sports on a pair of morning drive radio show appearances to mark baseball's Opening Day.

Lightfoot was asked about her counterpart in Arlington Heights, Tom Hayes, leaving open the door to the village's providing tax dollars to help fund a stadium redevelopment at Arlington Park. Hayes has said that the village has tax incentives in its economic development arsenal but that in the case of the possible Bears relocation, such public money would be "a last resort."

"The Arlington Heights mayor is kind of hedging his bets," Lightfoot said during an interview on WSCR 670-AM The Score. "Look, of course he's interested in embracing the idea of the Bears moving there. But what will the Arlington taxpayers say? And are they able to, on their dime, raise billions - and that's billions with a B and plural - that it's going to take to put up a (stadium)? I'm dubious."

"And look, we're going to keep our conversations with the Bears going," Lightfoot continued. "We have a working group to kind of look at the entirety of the Museum Campus, including Soldier Field. I'm confident that the numbers work in our favor. Now, what the Bears ultimately do, they're going to do. But I'm confident that we can and will make a very compelling economic case for the Bears to stay in Chicago, far greater than anything that they could possibly get in any suburb, including Arlington Heights.

"You just will not get the tourist traffic that you get from being downtown in the city of Chicago, one of the greatest tourist destinations in the country and certainly, I'd make an argument for, in the world."

In both radio interviews, Lightfoot suggested that talk of a Bears move to the suburbs has less to do with inadequacies of Soldier Field than it does with the McCaskey family's plans in either maintaining ownership or selling the team in the future.

At Soldier Field, the Bears are locked into a long-term lease with the Chicago Park District that provides some gameday revenues on tickets, concessions, parking and advertising. But at a stadium of their own, the team could increase those dollars - and the value of the franchise - and add new revenue streams thanks to ancillary entertainment uses on the sprawling Arlington Park acreage.

"I think the issue is not about Soldier Field," Lightfoot said during an interview on WGN 720-AM. "The larger question, though, which is really what I think is driving some of this, is what is the vision of the Bears for the future ownership of the team. That's really the question. And that's a different question than can they make money at Soldier Field. We can figure out the economics.

"Well, of course they can enhance their revenues at Soldier Field. We can have a better deal to help the park district and the city. But we can't control what their vision is for ownership of that team, and I really think that's really underlying and what's animating this whole discussion about Arlington Heights."

Bears Chairman George McCaskey told reporters at the NFL owners meetings last week that his staff continues to go through their due diligence process for the 326-acre Arlington Park property, which is pending a $197.2 million purchase from owner Churchill Downs Inc. Last month, team executives confirmed they've retained an architect and other consultants to help put together preliminary redevelopment plans.

The sale isn't expected to close until the first half of 2023.

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