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Bears not ready to sell Arlington Park or minority stake in team

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Bears not ready to sell Arlington Park or minority stake in team


The McCaskey family isn’t considering selling a minority stake in the team to free up cash to get a Bears stadium deal done in Chicago.

They’re also not ready to put their 326-acre Arlington Heights property — initially envisioned to be home of the team’s new domed structure — up for sale.

Those were among the takeaways Tuesday from Bears President and CEO Kevin Warren, who spoke during a Lincoln Forum/Union League Club of Chicago luncheon and took questions from reporters afterward.

“That’s something that we have not talked about. That’s something that is not on the table at this point in time,” Warren said when asked if Bears ownership would sell minority shares to help pay for a stadium. “It’s just not, and I don’t ever visualize that becoming a part of the discussion. We don’t think it’s necessary to do.”

“Never say never,” he later added. “But that is not something that we would ever focus on.”

The NFL franchise has committed more than $2 billion toward the proposed lakefront stadium, which would be publicly owned. But the team has asked for the rest of the estimated $3.2 billion stadium cost — as well as infrastructure redevelopment of the surrounding campus — to be covered with public funds.

The team’s contribution is expected to come from a mix of equity, debt and a loan from the NFL. It could also include the sale of personal seat licenses to season ticket holders and naming rights. The team also wants to collect revenue from non-football events at the stadium, such as concerts.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker has called that last proposal in particular a “non-starter.” He and the two top legislative leaders have so far rejected the Bears’ ask for state subsidies and permission to extend Illinois Sports Facilities Authority bonding authority to pay for a new stadium, and a formal bill never made it to the floor in the General Assembly’s recently concluded spring session.

Warren was asked about the possibility of additional ownership in the storied franchise — beyond the McCaskeys, businessman Pat Ryan and the estate of Andrew McKenna — as the NFL considers changes to league rules that would allow private equity firms to invest in franchises.

The Ricketts family sold minority shares in the Cubs in 2015 to help finance renovations of Wrigley Field.

But Warren said the Bears owners haven’t focused on private investment.

 
The Lincoln Forum and the Union League Club of Chicago hosted Bears President and CEO Kevin Warren during a lunch event Tuesday.
Christopher Placek/[email protected]

“This family has owned this team for almost 105 years,” Warren said of the McCaskeys. “That’s the focus. And nothing regarding private equity has been passed in the NFL. We made it very clear our commitment. Anytime you put up over a $2 billion investment into a city it shows our commitment to doing the right thing for the right reasons.”

Warren also was asked what would become of the former Arlington Park racetrack, which the team purchased for $197.2 million early last year just as he was beginning his tenure as Bears president.

He wouldn’t say if or when the NFL club intends to put the large tract of land on the market.

“As of today, we’re the largest landowner, and really these stadiums take so much energy, my focus has been on Chicago,” he told the Daily Herald.

Attendees of the noontime event in downtown Chicago included Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin, who this week renewed his pitch to bring the Bears to town.

Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin, left, greets Bears President and CEO Kevin Warren at a Tuesday luncheon in downtown Chicago. Irvin is renewing a pitch to bring the Bears to Illinois’ second-largest city.
Courtesy of City of Aurora

Warren called Irvin an “astute” businessman and politician, but didn’t further address the mayor’s proposal.

Also in the room was Arlington Heights Trustee Jim Bertucci, who said he took from Warren’s remarks that the Bears haven’t “close(d) the door” on the Northwest suburb since they haven’t listed the property for sale.

“Arlington Heights is ready to go back to talking as soon as the Bears are ready to go back to talking,” Bertucci said. “By no means do I think is it over. … If they want to come back and look more seriously again at Arlington Heights, I think we’re going to have a better path for them than was in the past, and maybe an easier path than what’s happening in Chicago.”

Arlington Heights Trustee Jim Bertucci

Warren said he’s not disappointed the legislature adjourned last month without having secured a stadium deal, and he plans to continue conversations with elected officials through the summer. Legislators return to Springfield in the fall.

He also said it hasn’t been more difficult navigating the political climate in Illinois compared to Minnesota, where he helped land a new stadium as an executive for the Minnesota Vikings.

“Every jurisdiction has their own way of doing business. This is exactly what I expected to do,” Warren told moderator Lou Canellis of Fox 32. “We live in a complicated world. This is an election year. We have people who 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.”

“It is important that our people here recognize what a stadium project will do for the city, our surrounding areas, the state of Illinois, the NFL,” he added.

Warren is maintaining an aggressive construction timeline to get shovels in the ground in 2025 and a stadium open by 2028.