Chicago sportswriters suffer outbreak of wanting to build the Bears a $7.5b suburban stadium

So the first article I happened upon this morning had this headline:

Arlington Park, Bears Could Give Chicagoland the Stadium It Needs

The impetus for this is that yesterday the owner of the racetrack in the Chicago suburb of Arlington Heights announced it was putting the track up for sale, and the writer of the article — NBC Chicago’s Adam Hoge — decided this would be a good opportunity to complain about how the Bears‘ completely-rebuilt-in-2002-at-$660-million-in-public-cost Soldier Field is a dump and needs to be replaced:

For a venue so perfectly placed between downtown and Lake Michigan, Soldier Field offers nothing in terms of convenience. It’s hard to access, with limited public transportation options and a less than ideal tailgating experience depending on where you’re lucky enough to park. God bless the fans who huddle together in the dark North Garage with the sweet smell of urine lingering in the cold air.

The only way to get to Arlington Heights by public transit is a commuter rail line, and it’s hard to see how building a new stadium will stop Bears fans from peeing where they park, but okay, I’ve read enough, it’s just this one sportswriters’ hobby horse. Probably not enough to glorify with an FoS post.

Let’s see, scroll down to the next stadium article in my Google News search, and what the

O’Donnell: It’s time for George S. Halas Stadium at Arlington Park

It is urgently incumbent upon regional politicians and civic planners to begin a campaign to get a global-class Chicago Bears stadium built as a profitable symbol of the rebirth of the 326-acre site…

Probable price: $7.5 billion.

Reasonable target for opening: 2027.

And oh my god here’s another one!

Okay, one article on a pipe-dream Bears stadium in the suburbs is just a single sportswriter stuck for a column idea on a slow news day; three articles on the same day means something is afoot. Unless Hoge, Chicago Daily Herald writer Jim O’Donnell, and the Arlington Cardinal’s unbylined blogger had dinner last night and hatched a conspiracy, clearly this idea is out there somewhere in the zeitgeist, and Chicagoland sportswriters are either picking up on it or agreeing to carry water for someone who wants this to happen. (Given that two of the articles are in suburban papers, I’m guessing either an Arlington-area politician or developer, but that’s purely a guess.) According to the Arlington Cardinal piece, there was some talk of a Bears stadium in Arlington Heights in the 1980s, but surely all the people involved in that would be dead now, right? Or is this some kind of Green Goblin thing where someone is trying to carry on his father’s evil legacy?

Regardless of the reason, there is now enough printed documentation for all future articles about the Bears’ stadium situation — which, let me reiterate, is that the team owners just got more than $600 million in public cash to, by all accounts, ruin a landmarked building — to include a line about a “rumored stadium in Arlington Heights.” Which can only make Bears owner Virginia Halas McCaskey happy, since it increases her leverage to seek whatever she might want, though given that she’s now 98 years old it’s hard to picture her waging a battle to open a new stadium in the year she turns 104. Until more facts emerge, I’m definitely suspecting the Green Goblin; though he lives in New York, so maybe it’s actually the work of one of these guys?

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Emanuel mulls adding seats to Soldier Field to lure Super Bowl (also sell more hockey tickets, ha ha no really)

Such is the state of the hamster wheel that I was on the radio talking about this last night before I had a chance to write it up here, but anyway: Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is “in the very preliminary stages of looking at” a 5,000-seat expansion of the Bears‘ Soldier Field, according to the Chicago Tribune. Cost? Who knows! Who’ll pay for it? Ditto! Why? To get the Super Bowl, of course:

Last month, the mayor told Tribune sports columnist David Haugh that Chicago could bid for the Super Bowl as early as 2019.

“The goal is to find a decision that moves the city forward. You don’t measure it that way. Would a Super Bowl be good for the city and good for the NFL? I think yes. Would having the NFL draft here be good for the city and for the NFL? The answer is yes. The goal is to have a discussion,” Emanuel said.

Chicago houses the NFL’s smallest stadium in terms of capacity. Soldier Field seats 61,500 — 8,500 shy of the NFL’s preferred minimum for a Super Bowl.

To be fair, Emanuel spokesperson Sarah Hamilton also said that the idea of adding more seats to Soldier Field was also motivated by a desire to get more revenue from concerts or outdoor NHL games — okay, no, wait, that’s just ridiculous, who on earth adds seats to a football stadium in order to make more money off of outdoor hockey? This is a Super Bowl grab, pure and simple.

Which is, as I’ve covered recently, just about the worst reason possible to spend a lot of money on stadium renovations, especially for a stadium that was just entirely rebuilt at a public cost of $432 million a decade ago. Though maybe in the course of adding seating, they could do something about Soldier Field being the ugliest piece of architecture on earth? Almost certainly not — more seats is only going to make it look more like a spaceship that crashed into a vintage stadium — but we’ve gotta grasp at silver linings where we can.

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Ex-Mayor Daley says Chicago’s problem is not enough football stadiums

No, wait, maybe this is the most jaw-dropping story of the day:

In an interview with Comcast Sports Net, [former Chicago mayor Richard] Daley said the city should build a new stadium and add a second NFL team to the market.

“I really believe we could get a second football team,” the former mayor said. “I’ve always believed — the Chicago Cardinals, Bears — why is it that New York has two? Florida has three, San Francisco has two. Now you think of that, we could easily take — Chicago loves sports and we could get a second team in here.

Because if the NFL has waited two decades to put a team in L.A., surely it’ll rush to pay to build a stadium for a second team in a much smaller metro area, right? Also, the last NFL stadium in Chicago was such a rip-roaring success. And Florida isn’t a city, and San Francisco … you know, this is more than an offhand radio remark by a guy who isn’t even in charge of anything anymore really deserves, so I think I’ll leave it at that.

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Chicago taxpayers may need to chip in for White Sox, Bears stadiums

Yesterday, the Chicago News Cooperative reported that the Illinois state fund that’s paying off the construction of the White Sox‘ U.S. Cellular Field and the reconstruction of the Bears‘ Soldier Field is running short of funds, and will need to be bailed out by city taxpayers. With the hotel tax revenues designated for stadium expenses coming in below projections, the state has withheld $1.1 million in income tax money that would normally go to the city of Chicago.

Today, the News Coop (or as I prefer to think of it after misreading its URL for the umpteenth time, the New Scoop) says that thanks to an “accounting error,” the hit to city taxpayers this year was actually only $185,000. That’s the good news. The bad is that even if hotel tax revenues rebound, the state sports authority’s annual debt payments are scheduled to rise from $30 million to $88.5 million over the next two decades, leading authority board member Jim Reynolds to warn that “the city has to begin to plan for some significant outlays.”

On one level, this isn’t actually a huge deal — as with recent tax squabbles in Miami and Cincinnati, taxpayers were going to be on the hook for these costs regardless, so it’s just a matter of which taxpayers, city or state. And Chicago has been kicking in $5 million a year toward the stadium costs in any case, so this just adds marginally to the bill.

Still, it’s a reminder that assigning a certain tax revenue stream to pay off stadiums — or really, to pay off anything — is in the end a bookkeeping abstraction: If the tax money doesn’t come in, you still have to make the payments, the same as if you buy a new car and plan to pay for it with the raise you’re expecting, and then the raise never materializes. (Note to younger readers: “Raises” and “new cars” were well-known before 2008; ask your parents.) In the end, public costs are public costs, and pretending they’re not because somebody else (hotel guests, car renters, cigarette smokers, racino patrons) has had their taxes earmarked for them is just sophistry.

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