'I'm not about to let them out': Lightfoot wants to work with Bears to keep team in Chicago
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she wants to negotiate with Chicago Bears management in an effort to keep the NFL franchise from moving to Arlington Heights, but so far the team hasn't come to the table.
"Number one, they actually have to come to us and tell us what they want. We have been open to a conversation. They have not," Lightfoot said during a Wednesday morning interview on WSCR 670-AM The Score. "The door is open, but we've got to sit down and have that discussion if they're serious about anything."
Lightfoot noted that the team has a lease with the Chicago Park District for Soldier Field that runs until 2033.
"I'm not about to let them out, and certainly not on a 'thanks for the memories and goodbye.' If they want to leave, they're going to have to pay us consistent with the contract," she said. "But we've got to have a discussion with them and they've got to put some cards on the table, which they really haven't been willing to do."
The Bears could be on the hook for a $84 million penalty if they broke their lease with the city as soon as 2026, the Chicago Tribune reported in July. That financial penalty, per the lease deal, would decrease in subsequent years, to as little as $11 million in 2033.
The mayor said Bears Chairman George McCaskey contacted her Tuesday night to inform her that the team signed an agreement to purchase the Arlington Park property from Churchill Downs Inc. That call was after the Bears canceled a scheduled meeting with Lightfoot's staff earlier in the day.
It was only the second call between Lightfoot and McCaskey since the team announced in June it put in a bid for the 326 acres in Arlington Heights.
"We have attempted to understand what their interests are for months, and they have not shared them," Lightfoot said during the radio interview. "It takes two to tango, as the expression goes. We're open to a conversation."
When the Bears publicly announced their interest in the Arlington Park property, Lightfoot dismissed it as little more than a negotiating tactic that came in the midst of talks over improvements at Soldier Field.
"And like most Bears fans, we want the organization to focus on putting a winning team on the field, beating the Packers finally and being relevant past October," she said at the time. "Everything else is noise."
Lightfoot on Wednesday denied that her earlier statements played a role in negotiations getting off on the wrong foot.
"I don't think so," Lightfoot told radio show hosts Mike Mulligan and David Haugh. "I think there are long-standing issues. Look, they cut a deal 20 years ago, that they cut, that they agreed to, that they're unhappy with. But that was a deal that they cut two mayors ago, with Rich Daley.
"There's clearly long-standing issues way before I came on the scene."
Among the upgrades that the Bears may be looking for in and around Soldier Field is a sports betting lounge, but team President Ted Phillips accused the park district of failing to engage in "good faith discussions," according to emails obtained by WBEZ 91.5-FM.
Amid an ongoing request for proposal process for a Chicago casino, Lightfoot said Wednesday she wouldn't agree to anything that cannibalizes revenues from the new gambling house.
The mayor said she's willing to talk with the Bears about their existing contract and what can be done to maximize their revenues, but "we've got to do it in a way that's fiscally responsible," she said.
At the same time, Lightfoot said she's committed to maximizing the value of the city-owned lakefront asset to make it into a year-round destination.