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Bears stadium saga: Chicago mayor chats with team president

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Mayor Brandon Johnson held a break-the-ice phone call with Bears President Kevin Warren on Wednesday in hopes of establishing a rapport with the NFL team that former Mayor Lori Lightfoot never had.

“We have to restore some confidence and order and calm in the city. We have to have conversations. And, unfortunately, when it comes to many dynamics in the city of Chicago, conversations break down because people have vested interests and they might get in their feelings a little bit,” Johnson told reporters hours before the introductory phone call.

Johnson said his goal is to give Bears’ ownership, the Chicago Park District (owner/operator of Soldier Field) and Chicago residents “a real seat at the table to discuss a pathway forward” to keep the Bears in the city.

“I am the hardest-working person in the city of Chicago. … I’m gonna spend every waking moment to make sure that every aspect of the city of Chicago, that we are addressing it with care and sensitivity and thoughtfulness. And that also applies to the Chicago Bears,” the mayor said.

Johnson was two months shy of his 10th birthday when the Bears trounced the New England Patriots 46-10 to win their only Super Bowl, in 1986.

“I grew up with the Super Bowl Shuffle. … We want to make sure that we can keep shufflin’ here in the city of Chicago with the Bears,” the mayor said.

Johnson refused to talk about what he is prepared to do to keep the Bears in Chicago.

The new mayor is under pressure to deliver the $1 billion worth of “investments in people” that form the cornerstone of his anti-violence strategy amid business resistance to the $800 million tax increases he has proposed.

But a City Hall source said there may be things Johnson can do to keep the Bears in Chicago that do not require “massive public investments” or “infringe on revenue sources” needed to fund social programs.

The source described Wednesday’s phone call as primarily aimed at establishing a chemistry between Johnson and Warren, who spearheaded construction of U.S. Bank Stadium in downtown Minneapolis while serving as chief operating officer of the NFC North Division rival Minnesota Vikings.

“The mayor is personable. People like him. That rapport is very important,” the City Hall source said.

Rapport is also something Johnson’s predecessor never had with the Bears — even though she’s a Bears’ season ticket holder.

On the day the Bears took out the $197 million option to purchase the Arlington International Racecourse site in Arlington Heights, Lightfoot cavalierly dismissed it as a “negotiation tactic,” noting the Bears were “locked into a lease” at Soldier Field.

“We want the organization to focus on putting a winning team on the field, beating the Packers and finally being relevant past October. Everything else is noise,” she said then.

Ultimately, Lightfoot offered to put a dome over a renovated, and somewhat enlarged Soldier Field, at a potential cost of $2.2 billion.

A rendering of the inside of a domed Soldier Field, released on Monday, July 25, 2022.

This rendering of the inside of a domed Soldier Field was among those released last July when plans were unveiled for a proposal to build a roof over the football stadium as a way keep the Chicago Bears in the city.

It was widely viewed as the political version of a Hail Mary pass — a desperate attempt to keep the Bears in Chicago or save face if they leave.

But last week, the Bears declared that building a stadium at the 326-acre racecourse site was no longer the team’s “singular focus” — even after purchasing the land for $197 million and beginning demolition work. Team spokesman Scott Hagel cited, among other issues, the property’s tax assessment.

Team officials then met with the mayor of Naperville, who pitched a stadium in that western suburb.

Hagel could not be reached for comment on Wednesday’s introductory phone call.

To even stand a chance to keep the Bears, Johnson would have to move the team’s quest for a new stadium to the top of his long to-do list, find a site large enough to handle the mixed-use development the Bears envision, and provide the team with the “property tax certainty” and infrastructure help needed to make the project financially feasible.

Chicagoan Marc Ganis, who has advised numerous NFL teams on stadium financing, said Wednesday’s phone call between Johnson and Warren is a positive development, no matter where it leads.

“If nothing else, the Bears will remain at Soldier Field for four or five years,” he said.

“Given the last mayor and how combative it was, it’s good to start off on the right foot.”



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