The Chicago Bears were founded in 1920, and they have never been a publicly owned team. Former owner and founder George “Papa Bear” Halas owned the team from 1921 until his death in 1983, and his daughter, Virginia Halas McCaskey, has been the owner ever since. Now, in light of recent moves by team management, one Illinois senator, Robert Peters, whose district includes Soldier Field, has introduced a bill that would essentially make the Bears a publicly owned team.
The Bears have been playing their home games at Soldier Field since 1971, and their recent purchase of the Arlington Heights Racecourse, owned by Churchill Downs Inc., has fueled the notion of a pending move to build a bigger and more fan-friendly stadium. It’s a long way off, as the team won’t be able to officially close the deal until next year at the earliest, but it feels almost inevitable at this point. That doesn’t mean it’s not going to be met with resistance.
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Many in Chicago Aren’t Happy About Idea of Bears Leaving
“I’m a Bears fan, and I know that it would be disappointing for me if the Chicago Bears moved outside of the city of Chicago,” Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker said in late September, per The Chicago Sun-Times.
“I think that the Bears and the city of Chicago need to work out their differences in order for us to end up with the Bears staying in the city. There’s something about having them in the city. … There’s a tradition I think that we all feel, many of us, about the city of Chicago. Having said that, this is a private enterprise engaging with city governments to decide what’s best for them,’ Pritzker added.
The Illinois governor also noted that while he wasn’t currently planning on finding ways to utilize public funds in order to re-build Solider Field in an attempt to get the Bears to stay, he stopped short at ruling it out.
“As for whether he’d support using public money to sweeten the pot for the Bears — either for a new stadium or for more upgrades at Soldier Field — the governor said ‘that’s not something that we’re looking at,’ but he didn’t rule it out,” a September 30 report by Mitchell Armentrout and Rachel Hinton of The Chicago Sun-Times revealed.
Lawmakers in the state are divided about how to handle the situation. Representatives Mike Zalewski, D-Riverside, Kam Buckner, D-Chicago, and Margaret Croke, D-Chicago, have sponsored a resolution that “would urge the General Assembly to ‘take all necessary steps to ensure that no state or local taxpayer money is used in the construction of new professional sport stadiums,'” the Sun-Times also reported.
One Illinois senator doesn’t want to let the Bears walk without a fight, however.
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Illinois Senator: Bears ‘Owe a Debt to the City’ if Team Leaves Chicago
The Bears have signed a lease to play at Soldier Field until 2033, but they could still buy out the remainder of it and move to Arlington. Essentially, the bill put forth by Peters would prevent any professional sports franchise that plays its games in a stadium funded by the public dollars from breaking its lease without giving local buyers the opportunity to buy a majority stake in the team first. Since the Bears play for a stadium funded by the public, this would apply to them. Thus, if the Bears are going to go, Peters says, the public should have a say in it first.
“Bears games are an extremely important part of the local economy, and Chicago residents have put billions of dollars into the pockets of the team owners over the past fifty years,” Peters said in a statement on September 30, adding:. “If the owners want to move the team, that’s fine, but they owe a debt to the city and its taxpayers, who have been paying for their stadium.”
This is just the latest chapter in an ongoing saga that doesn’t promise to be resolved any time soon. If the Bears are planning on moving, how the city of Chicago handles it will be fascinating to watch. How the team plans to pay for a new stadium should they head to Arlington Heights will be another crucial factor here.
Stay tuned, Bears fans. This situation seems to get more interesting by the day.