Pritzker: No plans for state to help keep Bears in Chicago

Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Thursday that while he personally wishes the Bears would stay in Chicago rather than move to Arlington Heights, there are no plans for state financial incentives to keep the team at Soldier Field.

"That's not something we're looking at," Pritzker said at an event in Chicago. "I have not had any discussions and I have not been approached by anybody, neither the city nor the Bears themselves."

State lawmakers meanwhile have filed legislation seeking to prevent a Bears move to Arlington Heights or refuse to help fund any new pro sports stadiums.

Bears officials announced earlier this week they are in the process of purchasing the 326-acre Arlington International Racecourse site for nearly $200 million from Churchill Downs.

"I'm a Bears fan and I know it would be disappointing for me if the Chicago Bears moved outside the city of Chicago," Pritzker said. "I've been watching them at Soldier Field for an awfully long time and there's something about having them in the city that's attractive to me and I care about. It's just the tradition I think that many of us feel."

Chicago owns Soldier Field, and the Bears are one of the few NFL franchises that does not own and operate the stadium where the team plays. Soldier Field is also one of the smallest football stadiums in the league.

Officials from the Bears and Chicago have been at odds over the future of the recently refurbished stadium in recent years. The Bears rental agreement ends in 2033.

The Soldier Field renovation was financed by bonds issued by the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority. The total debt, about $660 million, won't be paid off until 2032.

When asked if the state has any plans to "sweeten the pot" in an attempt for the Bears to stay put, Pritzker said his administration was "focused on balancing the budget and maintaining our positive course."

"This is a private enterprise engaging with city governments to decide what's best for them," he said.

But state Sen. Robert Peters, a Hyde Park Democrat whose district includes Soldier Field, took a hardline stance against the potential move, the Chicago Sun-Times reported. He filed legislation dubbed the "Monsters of the Midway Act" that seeks to prohibit the Bears from moving without an agreement with the city.

"If the owners want to move the team, that's fine, but they owe a debt to the city and its taxpayers, who have been paying for their stadium," Peters said in a statement.

Other lawmakers are calling for a timeout before throwing public dollars at the team, the Sun-Times reported. A House resolution sponsored by state Representatives Mike Zalewski of Riverside, Kam Buckner of Chicago and Margaret Croke of Chicago would urge the General Assembly to "take all necessary steps to ensure that no state or local taxpayer money is used in the construction of new professional sport stadiums."

That measure would offer legislators a chance to "step back, catch our breath and say we want to be involved in this process," Zalewski said.

"The indications are that if this were to go forward and the Bears were to relocate to Arlington Heights it would be a private transaction, but that's a big assumption," Zalewski said.

"There's not just the stadium; there's transportation costs. The only way to get in and out of Arlington Heights is Route 53. That's 85,000 people moving in and out of the Northwest suburb on a weekly basis, not to mention if there's a Final Four or a Super Bowl."

Democratic state Rep. Jonathan Carroll of Northbrook, whose district currently includes part of Arlington Heights, told the Sun-Times he hasn't been asked to support the measure and isn't sure he would.

J.B. Pritzker
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