‘Aurora is here waiting’: Mayor renews Bears stadium pitch

Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin thinks the Bears wouldn’t have the same tax, legal or political hurdles in building a new stadium as they’ve faced in Arlington Heights and on the Chicago lakefront.

That’s the pitch from the leader of Illinois’ second-largest city, who is renewing his overtures to the NFL franchise, after its bid for subsidies and tax relief for a new stadium in either of its first two proposed locales stalled in the General Assembly.

“I think it’s best for the state of Illinois,” Irvin said of a potential Bears stadium in Aurora. “And I know how politics works. Most politicians will vote based on their interests for their particular district. But I think we would make the pitch and sell — this is what would be good for the entire state of Illinois, and not simply just Chicago.”

Irvin said Monday that he’s floated at least two possible stadium sites past Bears President and CEO Kevin Warren, though the mayor declined to disclose either location because it could influence sales prices. But he said one is “close by” the $360 million Hollywood Casino being built at Farnsworth Avenue and Bilter Road, and accessible to Interstate 88.

Aurora is 40 miles away from downtown Chicago — a distance not unlike other suburban NFL stadiums, Irvin noted — and could be an attractive “central” location to fans from both northern Illinois and downstate, he said.

The potential stadium sites would be larger than the tight footprint the Bears are eyeing on the lakefront, but smaller than the 326-acre former Arlington Park property, he added.

Irvin plans to be in the room for a Union League Club of Chicago luncheon Tuesday where Warren will speak. The Aurora mayor rubbed elbows with the Bears president last week at another event when they agreed to catch up soon. Irvin’s first overture was last summer, when Naperville, Waukegan and others threw their hats into the ring as well.

“I’m going to let him know that Aurora’s in the house,” Irvin said. “He and I have talked a number of times. I explained to him, ‘Look, I understand you want to stay in Chicago, but if it does not work out, and it may be, you know, these hurdles are entirely too high, Aurora is here waiting and willing to welcome the Bears home to the City of Lights.’”

A Bears spokesman Monday said the club’s focus remains on the Museum Campus site — a familiar refrain since Warren’s April 24 presentation touting a publicly owned domed stadium on the parking lot south of Soldier Field.

Though Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson gave the proposal a full-throated endorsement, Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the top two leaders of each legislative chamber quickly threw cold water on it. The Bears offered to put up $2.3 billion toward the project, but asked for the rest of the estimated $3.2 billion stadium cost — as well as infrastructure redevelopment of the surrounding campus — to be covered with public funds.

Irvin is dangling a city tax revenue sharing incentive that would allow the club to keep a portion of taxes generated on its property from restaurants, hotels and other entertainment uses.

Like in Arlington Heights, Irvin envisions the Bears being property owners. The difference — in Irvin’s eyes — is the tax liability.

After the Bears purchased the shuttered racetrack in 2023, Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi hiked the assessment, sticking them with a higher tax bill. The Cook County Board of Review later lowered the property value, but it’s still more than the Bears want to pay.

Irvin said he has good relationships with assessors in DuPage and Kane counties, with whom the city would partner to make sure the Bears are “fairly treated.”

“Here in Aurora, we recognize the mistakes that were made by Cook County and trying to overly assess the Bears with an overly abundant tax liability,” Irvin said. “We would not do that same thing here.”

But the property tax issues in Arlington Heights are as much about a dispute with three local school districts as with the assessor’s office. There are six school districts that cover different parts of Aurora, and all will want their tax share of any new Bears redevelopment.

Irvin said as with the casino project, he will ensure the schools get “their fair share.”

“Me, as a mayor and working with our other taxing bodies, I would personally walk this through the processes to get the approvals to make sure that we can get the job done and not have any question of whether or not the Bears will be able to build a stadium in the city of Aurora.”

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