Pritzker: State funding for Bears stadium at Arlington Park 'not something we're looking at'
In his first public comments about the possibility of the Chicago Bears' moving to Arlington Park, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Monday the future of the racetrack is a private business matter and state funding for a potential suburban stadium isn't being considered.
"That's not something we're looking at right now," Pritzker said when asked about whether his administration would commit taxpayer money to help build a stadium in Arlington Heights, which could easily cost more than a billion dollars.
"I think obviously there are private business decisions that are being made," he continued, referring to the NFL franchise's bid for the 326 acres Churchill Downs Inc. put up for sale in the Northwest suburb. "I've enjoyed many years of seeing the Bears at Soldier Field, and so you know, the determination about what will happen to that property is a matter of private concern by the sellers. But for me anyway, I have spent my adult life going to Soldier Field to watch the Bears and have enjoyed that, and I hope that I'll be able to continue to do that."
"But again, these are private decisions by private companies, and I think that the mayor (Lori Lightfoot) will have much more direct input in that than I will," Pritzker said.
The governor, flanked by former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and other officials, made the comments during a Monday afternoon news conference at a factory in Chicago's North Lawndale neighborhood. Pritzker was there to tout a $500,000 state grant awarded to jump-start expansion of Wheaton-based The Will Group's electrical manufacturing plant on Kilpatrick Avenue, which broke ground before Emanuel left office in 2019.
Lightfoot only hours before was at a different public event just two miles away. After the Bears' bombshell announcement June 17 that the organization made an offer for the Arlington Park land, Lightfoot blasted it as a "negotiating tactic that the Bears have used before" amid ongoing talks over upgrades at Soldier Field. The team has a lease at the park district-owned lakefront stadium until 2033.
For his part, Emanuel didn't take the bait of the assembled press corps to come to the open microphone and podium to talk about the issues of the day, including the possibility of the Chicago NFL franchise moving to the suburbs.
Pritzker's brief answer marks his first public statement in months about the fate of the iconic racetrack, which was listed for sale in February. At the time, his office released a statement to the Chicago Sun-Times saying the administration was awaiting details on Churchill's plans to maintain horse racing in Illinois and planned to "work with all stakeholders to develop an appropriate solution."
Pritzker didn't address former Gov. Jim Edgar's insistence that state leaders can exert pressure on the Louisville, Kentucky-based racetrack owner in an eleventh-hour attempt to save the historic racing venue and the struggling Illinois horse racing industry. In an interview with the Daily Herald last month, Edgar questioned whether the horse racing and gambling corporation deserved additional state licenses -- namely, the pending one for a new Waukegan casino -- if it was intent on shutting down Arlington Park.
Company officials have said they want to move the Arlington racing license elsewhere in Illinois, despite legal questions over the process to do so.
The Bears are one of two groups that have publicly announced their interest in the sprawling property at Euclid and Wilke roads. The other is a consortium led by former track President Roy Arnold, who wants to preserve the oval and grandstand for horse racing while adding a mid-size sports arena, entertainment district, housing and industrial space.
Churchill officials said they received "strong proposals from numerous parties" ahead of a June 15 deadline and plan to provide an update on the sale process in the coming weeks.