'A long-term play': Outgoing Bears president doubles down on ask for public subsidies
Ted Phillips - an accountant by trade who rose through the ranks in the Chicago Bears front office to become team president and CEO - secured the deal for $432 million in state and city public financing for the $690 million renovation of Soldier Field two decades ago.
Now headed off to retirement after four decades with the NFL franchise, the last two dozen years in the top administrative position, Phillips is doubling down on his latest pitch for public subsidies for the Bears' latest stadium project.
He hasn't said how much the organization is looking for, but the club's plans for the 326-acre Arlington Park property are bigger, bolder and more expensive - an estimated $5 billion in total - than anything the Bears have proposed before.
"It's a long-term play," Phillips said in an interview with the Daily Herald at Halas Hall last Tuesday after his successor Kevin Warren's introductory news conference.
"And we have said from day one and we are still saying it - we publicly came out and said we're going to privately finance the construction of the stadium if this happens. Other than SoFi (Stadium in Inglewood, California), that's kind of an unprecedented comment to make, especially when you look at some of the newer stadiums where they're getting a lot of public money for the stadium construction," Phillips said.
"But when you look at the size of this development, whether it was a Bears stadium or not, the idea of getting property tax certainty and getting infrastructure funding as part of a public-private partnership - anybody would need that and want that," he continued. "And all we're looking for is that the benefits that this project can give to the whole region are commensurate with the asks of having some public funding."
But amid increasing resistance among state lawmakers for any Bears public subsidies, Phillips admitted, it's a "heavy lift."
Bears Chairman George McCaskey has described the club's master plans for Arlington Park - a domed stadium and parking lots on a 120-acre northwest portion of the site, and an adjoining transit-oriented, mixed-use district on the 206 acres to the south and east - as "intertwined."
So while the Bears have vowed to pay for the stadium itself, Phillips said their ask for public money would be for infrastructure costs - roads, sewers, stormwater and utilities - on a site that could include restaurants, stores, offices, a hotel, a performance venue, a fitness center, townhouses and multifamily housing, parks and open spaces.
Phillips envisions the space as "a wonderful, 365-day-a-year entertainment district."
During their monthslong public pitch that started with a Sept. 8, 2022, community meeting in Arlington Heights, Phillips, McCaskey and their hired consultants have put the emphasis on the adjoining mixed-use acreage - not having drawn up plans for a stadium design yet.
Phillips was asked if the team could just build the privately financed stadium - which would cost at least $1 billion alone - without anything else.
"I'm not sure there's any easy answer. Yes, could we build the stadium? Yes," Phillips said. "But we think that the development opportunity and what it could bring to the village and the region - the economic benefits - are massive."
The Bears announced a preliminary $197.2 million purchase deal with Churchill Downs Inc. just days after the final horse race at the storied track in September 2021. Officials now expect the closing to be weeks away.
"This site is massive and there's a lot to go through in terms of physical due diligence, entitlement due diligence and financial due diligence - and that takes a long time," McCaskey said. "We want to make sure we get it right. We want to be methodical about it. We don't want there to be any surprises along the way. And I think we've been fairly accurate from the start that we were looking to close in the last quarter of 2022 or first quarter of 2023, and here we are."
Phillips has agreed to stay on until Warren, the current Big Ten Conference commissioner, begins work at Halas Hall in April. Still, Phillips said he would be available to his successor even after that.
But after 40 years with the Bears organization - a tenure that included stints as controller, finance director, vice president of operations and team president/CEO - Phillips, 65, said he's ready to retire.
Seeing another stadium project through, he said, would likely take another decade.