From promises of no new taxes to Burnham, Bears’ latest stadium presentation sounded familiar

As Chicago Bears executives last week presented glossy renderings and extolled the virtues of building a new stadium on the city’s lakefront, one could hear echoes of similar remarks some of those same leaders made a year-and-a-half before to a suburban audience at John Hersey High School in Arlington Heights.

While the intended location for a new Bears stadium might have been different, officials from the NFL franchise came to both events with Power Point presentations and talking points in hand, as they made pitches for public subsides to help bankroll the envisioned megaprojects.

Here is a look at some of the main similarities and differences in messaging from each presentation.

City vs. suburbs

Bears Chairman George McCaskey gave the opening introduction at each meeting — inside the Hersey gymnasium on Sept. 8, 2022, and the United Club at Soldier Field on April 24, 2024 — having read the room he was in.

The former was an event open to the suburban public, many of whom showed up clad in blue and orange.

McCaskey waxed poetic about his parents Ed and Virginia’s move in 1949 to Des Plaines — where she still lives — and rattled off the Northwest suburban towns where members of his family have made home: Arlington Heights, Mount Prospect, Palatine and Schaumburg.

He noted his grandfather George Halas’ pursuit of the very same Arlington Park racetrack property for a stadium site in the 1970s.

  Then-Chicago Bears President and CEO Ted Phillips, left, and Chairman George McCaskey detailed plans for a massive redevelopment of Arlington Park during a Sept. 8, 2022, community meeting at John Hersey High School in Arlington Heights. John Starks/

“We know the community well, and like you we want what’s best for the community,” McCaskey said. “We think development of the site including a stadium is a win for Bears fans, the village of Arlington Heights, the surrounding communities and the state of Illinois.”

Fast forward to the recent Soldier Field presentation — a VIP, invitation-only event attended by some of the city’s major power players, including Mayor Brandon Johnson, aldermen, state legislators, union brass and business leaders — and McCaskey was singing a different tune.

“Perhaps no other sports team embodies the character of the city it represents better than the Bears and Chicago,” McCaskey said. “Our founder George Halas emphasized the importance of being a champion for Chicago. This has been part of the foundation of our organization. That is why we are excited to invest in the greatest city in the world through a stadium project and site improvements that will benefit Chicagoans and visitors.”

Mixed uses

Both city and suburban proposals call for an enclosed stadium, with officials referencing U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis as a comparative example.

The primary presenters — then-team President and CEO Ted Phillips in the former and his successor Kevin Warren in the latter — touted some of the major events each stadium could host, such as the Super Bowl, College Football Playoff and Final Four.

They also emphasized the role of open space near the stadium in each plan: at Arlington Park, new parks, a network of ponds and trails, and a central green lawn leading up to the stadium; and at the Museum Campus, 14 acres of public athletic fields and recreational park space primarily made available by ripping out the current Soldier Field seating bowl while preserving the original century-old colonnades.

A September 2022 artist’s rendering shows the view from a proposed Bears stadium at Arlington Park, looking east onto a central green and mixed use district, with downtown Chicago in the distance. Courtesy of Chicago Bears

Restaurants, retail and a hotel were mentioned as possibilities in both projects, while a sportsbook, offices and housing were only eyed in the suburban plan.

Allusions to Daniel Burnham

Officials evoked the name of famed architect Daniel Burnham at both presentations.

Daniel Burnham

Paul Milana, a planner at the Hart Howerton architecture firm hired by the Bears, said his Arlington Park designs drew inspiration from Burnham’s iconic 1909 Plan of Chicago and how infrastructure was interwoven with open space.

“We hope (the Bears plan) pays some homage to the thinkers that preceded us here in Chicago, perhaps echoes of the Midway, and we hope that these plans are no small plans and that they have magic in them,” Milana said in 2022.

At the April event, Johnson and Warren name dropped Burnham seven times.

The mayor said the Bears’ latest plans are “very much aligned” with Burnham’s vision for the lakefront because of the amount of open space that would be made available.

“The vision I have for the city of Chicago is very much tethered to Burnham,” Johnson said.

How to pay for it all

The stadium with transit-oriented entertainment district on the former site of the racetrack came with an estimated $5 billion price tag.

The stadium on Soldier Field’s south parking lot with surrounding recreation and cultural campus would be developed over three phases and cost $4.7 billion.

The Bears asked for public subsidies to make either plan happen.

In Arlington Heights, the team said it wouldn’t seek public funding for the direct stadium structure construction itself. In Chicago, they pledged $2.3 billion in private funds for a publicly owned stadium estimated to cost $3.2 billion alone.

Officials at both presentations vowed that either plan wouldn’t raise taxes.

“Nothing in the project is predicated on an increase in property taxes for village residents,” McCaskey told the Arlington Heights crowd.

“What (the plan) does not call for is raising existing taxes or implementing any new taxes on the residents of the city of Chicago,” Johnson said last month.

Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson endorsed new plans for a Bears stadium on the lakefront during a news conference at Soldier Field on April 24. Associated Press/Teresa Crawford

But the complex financing mechanisms proposed by the Bears do have serious implications for taxpayers.

The so-called Payments in Lieu of Taxes property tax break legislation the team unveiled months after the Hersey meeting would have frozen the assessment at the Arlington Park property for up to 40 years — something local school districts feared. Superintendents argued it would increase the burden on other taxpayers.

The Bears are now asking legislators to extend Illinois Sports Facilities Authority bonds, backed by the 2% Chicago hotel tax, for 40 years, and refinance existing debt. The plan could generate $900 million for the new stadium and a $150 million liquidity reserve fund to protect the city from any unexpected drop in hotel revenues. That’s been the case in recent years, when Chicago taxpayers had to cover required annual debt service payments through cuts in the city’s share of state income taxes.

The Bears have proposed a three-phase, $4.7 billion redevelopment that would put an enclosed stadium on Soldier Field’s south parking lot and develop a surrounding recreation and cultural campus. Courtesy of Chicago Bears

The NFL club has asked for another $325 million in public money for infrastructure upgrades — transportation, roadways and utilities — that officials say are needed to open the stadium. They’ve proposed $510 million worth of additional improvements in a second phase of the project, and $665 million in a third phase, but left it up to the city, state and federal governments to identify where that money could come from.

After seeing the Bears’ financial proposal, Illinois Sports Facilities Authority officials said the refinancing, new borrowing and interest costs could be $4.8 billion over four decades.

Touting the benefits

Each presentation included a slide with statistics showing the purported economic benefits of a stadium in each town, per consultant studies commissioned by the Bears.

In Arlington Heights, the project would result in $9.4 billion in economic impact for the region, create 48,000 construction jobs and $3.9 billion in labor income, according to the initial study.

Once complete, the redevelopment would bring $1.4 billion in annual economic impact, 9,750 long-term jobs and $601 million in labor income, the study said.

Those numbers went down for the Museum Campus project: an $8.4 billion economic impact during construction, 43,000 jobs and $3.5 billion in labor income.

Long-term, officials touted $456 million in annual regional economic impact, 4,200 permanent jobs and $170 million in labor income.

Citing the regional job numbers, Chicago’s mayor said the project was “a real opportunity to create real revenue by putting people to work” even beyond the city limits.

“This commitment from the Bears not only shows its commitment for the city of Chicago, but it sends a nice little shout out to the suburbs as well,” Johnson said.

Plan B?

The Bears presidents were each asked if they had a backup plan should their intended stadium project fall through.

“Right now, we don’t have a Plan B. Our singular focus is on this property,” Phillips said of Arlington Park in 2022. “We will not be discussing any other alternative sites or opportunities, including renovations of Soldier Field.”

“We’ve said it before, and after today we’re clear, that our focus is on the city of Chicago and this Museum Campus area,” Warren said last month. “We still own the land in Arlington Heights, but our focus from a stadium development project is here in this campus area.”

  Chicago Bears President and CEO Kevin Warren presented plans for a new lakefront stadium next to Soldier Field on April 24. He didn’t close the door on Arlington Park, but said the city plan is the “focus.” Christopher Placek/
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