• Ben Szalinski
    JUN 12, 2024


    Bears CEO Kevin Warren acknowledges state’s funding priorities but believes stadium project should be included

    Chicago Bears CEO Kevin Warren, right, speaks at a Lincoln Forum even at the Union League Club of Chicago on Tuesday. [FOX-32] 

    A new publicly funded stadium for the Chicago Bears was the most talked about potential piece of legislation during the Illinois General Assembly’s spring session and was also one of the most unlikely to see a vote.  

    Speaking to the Lincoln Forum in Chicago on Tuesday, Bears CEO Kevin Warren acknowledged funding priorities that Illinois elected officials have said take precedence over an NFL stadium but reiterated his commitment to forging ahead in the coming months to convince the state to give the NFL’s charter franchise money for a new home.  

    “I’m confident that at the correct time we will come together to figure out a stadium solution,” Warren said.  

    Warren and the Bears presented the legislature with an aggressive timeline and expensive proposal to consider over just four weeks of session in April. The team wanted $2.4 billion from the state which included debt refinancing for past Soldier Field and Guaranteed Rate Field renovations, new bonds to finance stadium construction, infrastructure improvements to make using the new stadium feasible and another wish list of lower priority infrastructure dollars for Chicago’s museum campus.   

    Related: Bears unveil request for state funding to build new stadium  

    The plan was immediately deemed dead on arrival in Springfield. Gov. JB Pritzker said it’s not a priority for him or taxpayers. House Speaker Chris Welch (D-Hillside) told WTTW-TV last week there is “no appetite,” including “after the election,” for the General Assembly to approve taxpayer funds to build the Bears a stadium.   

    “All it says is we have more work to do,” Warren said, who added he has remained engaged with lawmakers including as recently as a Tuesday morning meeting.  

    Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson supports the Bears’ plan, which carries little risk for the city.   

    Warren said he was not disappointed the General Assembly didn’t approve his plan, which was unveiled in late April at the tail end of the spring session. However, he reiterated his commitment to an aggressive timeline that starts construction in 2025 with the Bears’ first kickoff in the new dome on the lakefront in 2028.   

    Illinois politicians have had a consistent answer about why they oppose stadium funding: the Bears are a private business and should pay for their own projects, while the state is charged with addressing more pressing needs for Illinois residents such as education and healthcare. Warren acknowledged those comments on Tuesday.   

    “We live in a complicated world,” Warren said. “This is an election year. We have people that don’t have meals to eat; we have people sleeping on the street; we have a lot of complex issues that we are dealing with. So I’m a realist to understand these projects are not something you do just over a weekend.”  

    Putting state money toward a Bears stadium does have a place in the long list of priorities of a state government, Warren said. He touted the economic benefits from jobs that would be created by the project, visitors it would bring downtown and the opportunity for Chicago to hold major events with big economic impacts such as the Super Bowl.   

    “It’s just important that our people here recognize what a stadium project will do for the city, for the surrounding areas, for the state of Illinois, for the National Football League,” Warren said.   

    Stadium projects aren’t new to Warren who is in the early part of his second year as the head of the Bears. Warren was the brains behind the Minnesota Vikings’ publicly funded stadium in downtown Minneapolis, which had its debt paid off nearly two decades ahead of schedule and is now regarded as one of the NFL’s best stadiums. Warren said he would not have taken the Bears job in early 2023 if the Bears had a playoff caliber roster already assembled and a stadium plan figured out because he wanted to inherit a difficult challenge as he left his Rosemont-based job as Big Ten commissioner.   

    Warren said he is personally troubled that Chicago is getting passed over for major economic events because it does not have a facility like Minneapolis’ U.S. Bank Stadium. He cited a March Sports Business Journal report that ranked America’s top 25 cities for hosting sporting events. Orlando, which only has NBA and MLS teams, was ranked first. Chicago was not ranked, but Los Angeles, Atlanta, Phoenix, Miami, the Twin Cities and Philadelphia were on the list and each, like Chicago, has at least one NFL, NBA, NHL, MLS and MLB team. New York City was ranked seventh, though their NFL teams play in New Jersey. Los Angeles, Atlanta, Phoenix and the Twin Cities each have a domed NFL stadium, along with other cities on the list including Las Vegas; Indianapolis; Arlington, Texas; Houston; and New Orleans.   

    “For Chicago to have never hosted a Super Bowl, a Final Four, a College Football Playoff, these megaevents, we’re losing out,” Warren said.  

    Warren argued the Bears’ private financial commitment to stay in Chicago, which is about $2.3 billion when funding from the NFL is included, should be something political leaders want in Chicago. Warren reiterated the Bears are not considering building a stadium in Arlington Heights or anywhere else.   

    Warren did rule out the Bears using a tool used by the Cubs to pay for Wrigley Field’s renovations about 10 years ago. The Cubs sold off a small percentage of the team’s ownership to raise about $175 million for renovations after public funding was rejected. Though the NFL is considering allowing such business transactions in their league, Warren said the Bears haven’t discussed it and likely wouldn’t use it.  

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