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Renderings, Project Details Revealed For Bears' $3.2B Lakefront Stadium

The Chicago Bears released renderings for a new $3.2B domed stadium on the city's lakefront at a press conference Wednesday, a proposal that includes more than $2B in public money.

The NFL's Chicago Bears hope to build a domed stadium on the Lake Michigan waterfront.

The NFL team's new home would feature a translucent, fixed roof, a large window that reveals views of the city's skyline from the field, and more publicly accessible green space on the museum campus next to the stadium. The team would continue to play at Soldier Field during the new facility's construction, Bears President Kevin Warren said.

"It's truly a win for the entire city," Mayor Brandon Johnson said at the press conference. "It's bigger than football. It's about the people who live here."

The team pledged $2B in private financing and plans 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.

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

The team hopes this money, which would bring the total cost of the project to $4.7B, will come from the public. Murphy said the team will continue to work with the city and state to discuss financing avenues for these improvements.

The stadium would have a large, windowed entrance to provide attendees with views of the Chicago skyline.

Warren said the team hopes to secure state support for the project during its current legislative session, as that would allow construction to start next summer for an expected completion date in 2028. Every year the project is delayed would add $150M to $200M in costs, he said.

"This truly is one of those adages that time is money," Warren said. "We need to figure this out."

When asked why taxpayers should contribute any money toward the stadium, Johnson pointed to the development's estimated economic impact. The team projects the development will generate 24,000 jobs in the immediate area and 43,000 in the region. 

With a replacement stadium, annual tax revenue from ongoing operations would be 58% higher for the city and 41% higher for the state than operations at Soldier Field, according to the team's presentation. 

The domed stadium will allow sporting events and musical performances year-round.

The domed stadium would allow concerts, major championships and other events to take place year-round, and the additional revenue would help support city programs, Johnson said. 

"The best way to grow our economy really requires partnerships with public and private entities," Johnson said. "That's exactly what this does."

The private financing mix for the stadium includes a combination of equity and debt. The team will seek a $300M loan from the NFL and raise revenue through marketing opportunities at the new stadium, including corporate naming rights, which it can borrow against to start construction, Crain’s Chicago Business reported. It will also sell personal seat licenses to potential season-ticket holders, according to the outlet. 

The Chicago Park District will own the new stadium, and the team will replace the existing stadium with sports fields and gardens. The team will preserve the stadium’s historic colonnades in tribute to the city’s military veterans.

Infrastructure around the stadium will be built in three phases and publicly funded, according to the team:

  • Phase 1: Transportation, roadways and utilities for $325M.
  • Phase 2: Parking, bus depot expansion, and new parks and play fields for $510M.
  • Phase 3: Further transportation improvements, retail and public attractions for $665M.

The Bears are pledging to work with local construction firms owned by minorities, women and veterans to build the stadium. The team estimates it will generate $8B in regional economic impact.

A rendering of the exterior of the proposed stadium and its surroundings

The Bears' proposal to stay in Chicago is an abrupt departure from its long-telegraphed plans to move to Arlington Heights. In February 2023, the Bears purchased the 326-acre site of the former Arlington International Racecourse for $197.2M, seemingly dooming Chicago's prospects of keeping the team.

But while the team still owns the land in Arlington Heights, it is now focusing its stadium development efforts on the city, Warren said. 

The team will have hurdles to clear before the stadium can become a reality. 

Just before the team announced the stadium project, Gov. J.B. Pritzker told WGN News he remained skeptical of taxpayers' appetite to publicly finance a portion of the project. 

"I wonder whether its a good deal," Pritzker told the outlet. "There are a lot of priorities, and I'm not sure this is among the highest priorities for taxpayers."  

The proposal will also likely face significant opposition from green space advocacy group Friends of the Parks. The group had a hand in derailing Star Wars filmmaker George Lucas' plans to build a museum along the lakefront a decade ago and voiced disapproval of the Bears' lakefront development plans in December.

Johnson said the increase in green space on the museum campus, particularly with new fields for children to play fall and spring sports, should alleviate some potential concerns. 

"My vision for the city of Chicago was very clear, particularly around environmental justice and creating more open space," Johnson said. "We do that by paying attention to the needs of our young people."

UPDATE, APRIL 24, 8:45 P.M. CTThis story has been updated with additional details about the stadium proposal.