Editorial Roundup: Illnois

Chicago Sun-Times. April 26, 2024.

Editorial: With Bears stadium plans, Springfield should just slam on the brakes

With all the important priorities the state has to tackle, why should Springfield rush to help the billionaire McCaskey family build a football stadium? The answer: They shouldn’t. The arguments so far don’t convince us this project would truly benefit the public.

The Chicago Bears and Mayor Brandon Johnson held an elaborate show-and-tell this week in an attempt to sell the public on their new $4.7 billion lakefront stadium plan.

But next comes a complicated two-step as the Bears and the city attempt to persuade Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Springfield’s top legislative leaders to approve $325 million in initial infrastructure funding for the stadium. The Bears and Johnson will try to persuade lawmakers and the governor to give the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority permission to raise $900 million toward the stadium’s construction.

The current legislative session ends May 24. But with all the important priorities the state has to tackle, why should Springfield rush to help the billionaire McCaskey family build a football stadium?

The answer: They shouldn’t. Ramming such a complex deal through the Legislature in a short time frame is absolutely the wrong approach.

That neither Pritzker nor legislative leaders were at the Bears announcement is telling. The governor is already on the record saying the state has bigger fish to fry. Illinois House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch told reporters he was invited to the unveiling but instead attended an event where he discussed the recently passed Healthcare Protection Act.

“You know, those are the things that, you know, I think we need to be focused on right now,” Welch said.

Especially since, as Sun-Times reporters Fran Spielman and Mitchell Armentrout explain in their latest story, the final price tag could be considerably higher: $5.9 billion.

No gift to the public

The Bears say they will pay $2 billion toward the stadium and then hand it over to the public, but the $325 million the team seeks from Springfield shows the gift is hardly free. Indeed, the Bears want to request just over $1 billion dollars more down the road to convert Soldier Field into ball fields and green space, plus other planned infrastructure improvements.

The team even wants to grab the stadium revenue from non-Bears events. “You know, if there’s a Beyoncé concert, they want all of that revenue, too, and everything else that might happen there,” as Pritzker told reporters.

The effrontery. Of course, the Bears did not mention this at their announcement. That request strikes us as nothing more than a back-door attempt to help the Bears recoup some of that $2 billion — and not in direct cash — that they’re promising.

How would this be a public stadium, in any real sense of the word, if a private entity gets the lion’s share of the benefit?

The answer is: It’s not.

Bears President and CEO Kevin Warren sat down with the Sun-Times Editorial Board on Thursday, a day after publicly unveiling the team’s plan. Warren acknowledges Pritzker is not on board. And the governor needs to be if the Bears have any shot at public funding.

“We’ve communicated with his staff,” Warren said. “We’re looking forward to getting together with him soon. He said what he said. We respect him. He’s a great leader.”

State officials will likely have the same central question we do about using public money — that could be spent on rebuilding public schools, shoring up public transit or myriad other pressing needs — to help build a $4.7 billion football stadium on public land.

Unconvincing arguments for a ‘hard project’

We agree with the Bears that the stadium project would provide jobs. That’s a benefit.

But we want to see more proof to back up the Bears’ claim of creating 43,000 construction jobs. By comparison, New York City’s massive $25 billion new Hudson Yards development — a 28-acre neighborhood of skyscrapers, a shopping mall, a school and open space — promised only about 23,000 construction jobs.

Warren and his team also talked about buckets of state and federal infrastructure funds from which they could draw but didn’t specify which buckets, provide an actual plan for accessing them or make a good case for diverting that money from other vital projects.

The project’s phasing is also a problem. It’s a recipe for disaster for the Bears to build and open the stadium before lining up funds for the promised park space — which includes the Soldier Field deconversion — and the remaining roads and infrastructure needed to service the entire site.

Imagine if the funding is slow to come or never comes at all. The city would be stuck with a new stadium and current Soldier Field staring at each other, surrounded by unfinished acreage — an insult to the Museum Campus, the lakefront and Chicagoans. Those ugly parking lots south of Soldier Field certainly need to go, but not for a potential scenario that’s similarly awful.

As for those ISFA bonds, if the hotel tax revenue needed to pay them off falls short, taxpayers could easily get stuck with the bill — and have been several times in the past. Extending those bonds for another 40 years, as the plan calls for, is another 40 years of risk. Meanwhile, the White Sox and Red Stars are eyeing those bonds for new stadium projects, too.

None of this accounts for the fact that Friends of the Parks could very well file a lawsuit to stop this project in its tracks, under the city’s Lakefront Protection Ordinance.

“This is not an easy project,” Warren said. Which seems to us a good reason for Springfield to put on the brakes.

The closer you look, the more it all seems to benefit the Bears, not the public.


Chicago Tribune. April 23, 2024.

Editorial: A historic wrong finally righted for the Prairie Band Potawatomi

We note with pleasure that Illinois finally now has the first federally recognized tribal land in the Prairie State.

The U.S. Department of the Interior announced Friday that portions of Shab-eh-nay Reservation land, located in DeKalb County, are being placed into trust for the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, thus giving the tribal nation sovereignty over that acreage adjacent to Shabbona Lake State Park.

The decision redresses a clear wrong, dating back more than 175 years.

Simply put, in 1833, the Potawatomi were pressured into signing the Treaty of Chicago in which they gave up nearly all their land along the western shore of Lake Michigan — all except the roughly 2 square miles of Illinois land reserved for them by the Treaty of Prairie du Chien. Most of the Prairie Band Potawatomi moved to the Kansas territory, where they used the money they’d been given to buy a small reservation near Topeka. But Chief Shab-eh-nay (“Built like a bear”) stayed put, as did a couple of a dozen other members of his family, living until 1845 in DeKalb County.

Alas for all of them, Shab-eh-nay made a trip west of the Mississippi to visit relatives (not a quick jaunt in those days) and when he came back he discovered the U.S. had declared the land “forfeited” and had sold off its 128 acres to settlers. Those who have lost property in tax sales may sympathize, but Shab-eh-nay owed no money. He’d simply gone off on a trip. Some settlers eventually gave Shab-eh-nay and his family land upon which to live near Morris, but the injustice remained, as did Shab-eh-nay’s understandable anger at the government-sanctioned theft.

In July, we published an Opinion piece by Joseph Zeke Rupnick, the great-grandson of Chief Shab-eh-nay, arguing for the return of this land. “Despite our land being illegally taken from us, we’re still here, living and contributing to life in Illinois, while practicing our traditions and serving our country,” he wrote on these pages. “Our reservation land may not yet be back in the hands of our tribe, but we have the truth and increasing acknowledgment that our cause is just.”

Indeed. The basic history of ownership (and theft) is not, as far as we know, under any serious dispute.

On Friday, a wrong was mostly righted when an enlightened compromise was achieved. The tribe now gets to govern 130 new (or not so new) acres, located adjacent to Shabbona Lake State Park, with associated federal benefits and protections. The state may well add to the total in the future if a deal can be reached on how that land is used.

Casino watchers already have been wondering if this could be the site of yet another future Illinois casino, given that the Potawatomi already run successful gambling operations in Milwaukee and Kansas. If they so chose, the tribe could operate so-called “Class II gaming” (bingo and “nonbanked card games”) under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act without the state’s permission. But anything like the Four Winds Casino in Michigan would require some negotiation.

That’s a matter for another day. The Potawatomi, the proper owners of this land, rightfully will make the call.