With some support, is there hope for Bears’ stadium plan?

by Admin
With some support, is there hope for Bears' stadium plan?

Bears President Kevin Warren is a spellbinding salesperson. Twice now, I’ve been in the room as he pitched his vision for a new lakefront stadium — which would come courtesy of more than $2 billion in direct public investment. Twice now, he has wowed the crowd.

Never mind the sweep of setbacks Warren has endured since that wowzer April pep rally in which he first unveiled the Bears’ stadium plan. Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson served as cheerleader in chief, but the state’s three other most powerful elected officials — Gov. J.B. Pritzker, House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch and Senate President Don Harmon — have responded with varying versions of “Hell, no.”

Unbowed and unbroken, Warren sought to bounce back Tuesday before the city’s leading civic booster group, the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce. The crowd was custom-fit for Warren’s dreams of a Final Four, a Super Bowl, an Olympics opening ceremony and perhaps even a Taylor Swift residency.

The chamber is backing the Bears’ plan. The group and World Business Chicago, an economic development group controlled by the mayor, are the only major civic organizations to do so.

The Bears and their lonely gaggle of supporters, which also include unions representing the construction trades, are playing a long game. They have no choice after Warren started with a couple of mistakes.

First, he understated the need for public investment, which includes $1.5 billion in infrastructure investment plus borrowing costs that would total $4.8 billion over 40 years. Next, he pushed for legislative action this spring, even though the Bears had no political support in sight.

There are plentiful good reasons to oppose the project. But don’t take my word for it. Instead, listen to Johnson, who laid out a string of objections during the mayoral campaign in response to a questionnaire from WBEZ/Chicago Sun-Times.

“Let me be clear: I want the Bears to stay,” said Johnson as a candidate. “But Chicago could also use $2 billion to remove lead pipes, house thousands of unhoused Chicagoans, fully fund public schools, generate neighborhood and business development in communities across the city, pay down our pension and general obligations, or meet dozens of other urgent needs — all of which would also generate much-needed economic and quality-of-life returns.”

Johnson has yet to explain his change of heart.

Chicago Bears President and CEO Kevin Warren, right, with Mayor Brandon Johnson during a Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce meeting at the Hilton in the Loop on June 4, 2024. (Eileen T. Meslar/Chicago Tribune)

The mayor’s appearance Tuesday at the chamber luncheon would have marked a good occasion for doing so — a chance to explain to his progressive backers why he now is supporting a project far afield from their needs. But Johnson said not a word about the Bears’ project.

The chamber’s president, Jack Lavin, positioned the push for public funds as best as he could in remarks to reporters after the luncheon. He played up the need for infrastructure investment, which would improve access to the lakefront, and said economic activity from the new stadium would generate a return on public investment.

It’s evident that if there is to be any public investment at all, it likely will come as part of a package that also includes new housing for the Chicago White Sox and the Chicago Red Stars women’s soccer team. But the teams so far have shown no willingness to work together on a proposal that might earn public and political support.

The Bears, for their part, will need to produce more persuasive data on the measurable economic impact of their plan — especially their claim about the equitable benefits a new stadium could create. The team likely also would need to abandon plans to grab cash from non-football activities such as concerts and parking fees.

Warren missed a chance to begin changing the public debate in his remarks Tuesday.

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