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Bears' Kevin Warren: Legislative Cold Shoulder Won't Stop Team From 'Pushing Forward' On New Digs


Chicago Bears President Kevin Warren told Bisnow the team plans to continue its pursuit of a new stadium on the lakefront despite a seemingly limited appetite from the governor and Illinois lawmakers for publicly financed stadiums. 

New Bears Stadium rendering

Illinois lawmakers' spring legislative session came and went without the body taking up a stadium financing proposal. The Bears have proposed a mixed-use stadium project with a $4.7B all-in cost that would be partially financed by taxpayer dollars.

Warren said negotiating with lawmakers comes with the territory.

“It’s just a part of business,” Warren said during a break at Bisnow's Chicago Retail, Entertainment, Sports and Tourism event Wednesday at the Fifth Third Arena. “It's a challenging project.” 

State Rep. Kam Buckner of Chicago, whose district includes Soldier Field, told the Chicago Tribune on Saturday that stadium financing wouldn't come up in legislative discussions because lawmakers need more time to consider the proposal.

“A proposal of this magnitude deserves sunlight and scrutiny,” Buckner told the Tribune. “And very often what has happened in this building is that things get rammed through at the last minute without much public input or transparency. So I welcome conversations that will probably begin to happen once we’re done here.”

When the team unveiled its domed lakefront stadium proposal at a press conference in April, Warren said the team aimed to secure state support for the project during its spring legislative session, as that would allow construction to start next summer for an expected completion date in 2028.

The team executive said Wednesday that he remained optimistic the setback won’t slow down the timeline for the stadium project. 

“I hope it doesn’t,” Warren said. “We'll still just keep pushing forward. We have the fall session and hopefully we can just keep working together.”

The Bears pledged $2B in private financing and plan to request a $300M loan from the NFL and an additional $900M in bonds from the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority for the construction of the stadium. The proposal would utilize the existing 2% hotel tax used to back ISFA bonds, said Karen Murphy, Bears chief operating officer and executive vice president of stadium development, at the April press conference.

The team is also looking for $325M to finance core infrastructure improvements it needs to open the stadium, Murphy said. In addition, it seeks $1.1B across two additional phases of development in the surrounding area for a nearly $1.5B total infrastructure investment, which it hopes will come from public financing.

Chicago Bears play-by-play announcer Jeff Joniak and Chicago Bears President Kevin Warren

Gov. J.B. Pritzker's chief of staff, Anne Caprara, and Deputy Gov. Andy Manar met with team leadership in early May to review the stadium plans and came away unconvinced. Pritzker wasn't present. 

“The current proposal is a non-starter for the state,” Pritzker's press secretary, Alex Gough, said in a statement. “To subsidize a brand new stadium for a privately owned sports team, the Governor would need to see a demonstrable and tangible benefit to the taxpayers of Illinois.”

In comments on Bisnow's stage, Warren lamented the lack of overall investment in Chicago, comparing the city's development slowdown to Nashville, where he traveled last week for NFL meetings. Warren said cranes for new buildings were like “the state bird” in Nashville. On his way to Wednesday's Chicago event, he said he spotted just one crane.

“It's the greatest city on the planet,” Warren said. “It has the greatest core infrastructure and people and natural resources here. But I'm concerned that we're letting a lot of those waste away.” 

That goes double for the Bears' stadium project.

“We don't want to cost taxpayers some undue amount of money. That's not the whole goal,” Warren said, pointing to the 70% of stadium financing the team is prepared to bring to the table.

“We love Chicago, and this is the right thing to do,” he added. “This is a legacy opportunity. This sets us up for the next 30, 40, 50 years. And sometimes there is no catch in business other than we're trying to do the right thing for the city. And I believe as Chicago goes, Illinois goes and also this country goes.”

Until the fall session, Warren told Bisnow his aim is to continue to build relationships with state legislators.  

“The goal is to have conversations together,” Warren said. “The work never stops.”