As the Chicago Bears make plans to build a new stadium, taxpayers still are on the hook for the old one. A big bill is coming soon —and the primary method of paying for it may not be enough.

Whether or not the team leaves for its newly acquired site in Arlington Heights, the public is obligated to pay for the 2003 renovation of Soldier Field that was meant to keep the team there.

Due to refinancing and years of primarily paying interest instead of principal, the debt owed for Soldier Field has ballooned from the original $399 million to $631 million, according to the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority, or ISFA, which manages the debt payments. The increase in the debt alarms experts who work in stadium financing.

“No sane person would have agreed to this deal,” said J.C. Bradbury, a professor of economics at Kennesaw State University in Marietta, Georgia, who has studied sports stadium financing.

Recently, due to the COVID pandemic crushing travel and tourism, the 2% portion of the overall 17% city hotel tax that was supposed to pay for the deal has fallen short. As a result, Chicago was forced to pay $27 million last year from its share of the Illinois income tax, which otherwise helps pay for basic services such as road repair and garbage pickup.

With payments rising to $55 million this fiscal year and $90 million by 2032, the bills only get bigger, with real doubts about whether the hotel tax will be enough to pay it off. State officials estimate the hotel tax will fall about $10 million short this year, forcing the city to pick up the tab again.

Regardless of the Bears’ home in the years ahead, the debt must be paid. While the team pays about $6.5 million year in rent, that goes to the Chicago Park District, not to pay the bonds.

When the bonds for the stadium were issued through the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority in 2001, they were “backloaded,” with repayment of most of the principal left for later, so most of the early payments were for interest. Then, when the bill was due to increase, the state refinanced the debt to push the bigger payments further out.

By 2019, annual hotel tax revenues had roughly doubled to $52 million, and were able to cover expenses every year except 2011, when the city paid $111,000. But revenues …read more

Source:: The Mercury News


Whether the Chicago Bears leave or not, taxpayers are on the hook for growing Soldier Field debt payments

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