Does mayoral candidate Willie Wilson have enough gas to keep the Bears in Chicago?

AN IMPERATIVE “Y” FACTOR appeared in an attempt to thwart the Chicago Bears’ move to Arlington Park.

Willie Wilson – Chicago’s well-endowed mayoral candidate – told the Daily Herald he was looking to meet with team leaders George McCaskey and Ted Phillips to chart a course that would leave the Bears stadium within city limits. .

“You start with communication, and that’s what we started,” said Wilson, the 73-year-old businessman best known recently for a series of free multimillion-dollar vehicle gasoline giveaways. dollars in the Chicago area.

“You would think the current mayor of Chicago would have sought this route when it was first learned last year that the Bears were considering leaving. She failed to do so. She treated them with contempt. It reinforces that she doesn’t understand business and she doesn’t understand how to run the city of Chicago.”

WILSON SAID IF HE is elected mayor next year, he would first propose expanding the seating capacity at Soldier Field with a domed roof.

“The stadium could be expanded south toward 31st Street and the former Michael Reese (hospital) property,” Wilson said. “How this wasn’t part of that expensive renovation plan 20 years ago still baffles me.

“I know I’m not going to Bears games after Thanksgiving because I’m not going to enjoy a football game sitting in all that wind and cold. I think the fact that so many fans do that is a reason. plus why Chicago football fans are the greatest in the world.”


IF THE BEARS REFUSE that help, Wilson said his administration would then work with the team to find a “fan-friendly site” for a new stadium in the city.

Finally, if the Bears were to relocate to Arlington or any other location outside of the city, Wilson said he would form an alliance of regional officials and influencers among federal elected officials to implore the National Football League to award to the city of Chicago a new team.

“As it stands, we have a metropolitan area of ​​nearly 9 million people who compete for about 60,000 seats for eight or nine games a year,” Wilson said. “If Arlington gets the Bears, that leaves a lot of people on the West Side and the Southwest Side and the South Side and in Northwest Indiana ready, willing and able to support a second Chicago team.

“Why should New York and Los Angeles have two NFL teams and the city of Chicago might not have any? We support the White Sox and the Cubs. We could definitely support a second NFL team. “

THE MAYOR OF CHICAGO’S PRIMARY will take place on February 28th. Wilson and Southwest Side Alderman Ray Lopez are the only major Democratic candidates announced, although incumbent Mayor Lori Lightfoot told the media over the weekend that she would seek a second term.

One of the glaring limitations of Wilson’s political resume is the fact that he has never held elected office.

In Chicago’s 2015 Democratic mayoral primary, he came out of nowhere to finish third behind incumbent Rahm Emanuel and Jesus “Chuy” Garcia in a field of five.

In 2019, Wilson maintained his same 10% share – mostly black Conservative voters – but finished fourth, behind Lightfoot, Toni Preckwinkle and William Daley of the Bridgeport Dynasty family.

BEFORE THE LIGHTFOOT-PRECKWINKLE runoff, Wilson endorsed Lightfoot. Political pundits deemed his decision “significant” in Lightfoot’s blistering victory over Preckwinkle. Wilson himself has since called it “a hell of a mistake”.

Wilson grew up poor in Louisiana and left school at age 12 to work in a sharecropper’s field. He arrived in Chicago in 1965, “at the Greyhound station with 50 cents in his pocket”.

Shortly after, he was cleaning the floors of a McDonald’s not far from the stadium in Chicago. Less than 18 years later, after a daring encounter with Ray Kroc, he owned five McDonald’s franchises.

Wilson sold them and now owns a medical supply business.

He announced he was committing at least $5 million of his own money to his 2023 mayoral campaign.

AWAY FROM WILSON, the Bears’ Arlington Park initiative continues to go through its due diligence stages.

On Thursday, Bill Carstanjen – CEO of Churchill Downs Inc. – told investors and other interested parties: “We are still on track to sell the 326-acre Arlington Park property to the Chicago Bears for $197 million. in the first half of 2023. pending receipt of the remaining approvals.”

In January, McCaskey announced that Phillips would be stepping away from many day-to-day responsibilities to focus on ad hoc management of the Bears/AP affair until a final decision on whether to buy or punt.

At the time, McCaskey also confirmed educated speculation that Churchill and sales agent CBRE approached the team about the spring 2021 purchase.

“Our exploration of the Arlington Heights property was largely determined by the vendor,” the Bears chairman said.

THIS RECOGNIZED SEQUENCE has led to continued speculation that the projected movement in team ownership over the next few years makes the financing of any new stadium complex by current Bears owners extremely complex.

In March, McCaskey and Co. announced the retention of three vendors to help channel due diligence. One – Jones Lang LaSalle – is a Chicago-based company that specializes in commercial real estate and premium real estate investing.

Some on-field authorities say that likely means the Bears are deeply committed to pursuing the profitability of the Arlington Park field before the first spade toward a new stadium is turned.

IN THIS PROJECTION, the team would retain the area needed for a new stadium, parking and minimal external amenities and develop a profit-sharing agreement for the remaining land.

Should the Bears complete their purchase of the Arlington land and eliminate Churchill Inc., that would also leave the team leaders in a well-mined spot to flip the land for profit and stay in Chicago.

The other two vendors disclosed were: MANICA Architecture of Kansas City, Kansas, and CAA Icon, a real estate strategy firm that assisted the Ricketts family in much of the reimagining of Wrigley Field and the neighborhood surroundings.

WILSON says he finds it hard to imagine a city of Chicago without the Bears.

“Their (departure) would only be sad,” said the candidate. “I can’t imagine any sports fan in the city of Chicago wanting to see it.

“None of this is against anything that has to do with the people of Arlington (Heights).

“But Chicago is a city known around the world for so many great things. And one of its greatest has been the Chicago Bears football team. It’s a brand and a driver of tourism.

“The Bears could one day play in Arlington Heights if the city of Chicago isn’t restored by smart leadership.

“But it won’t be the Chicago Bears anymore.”

• Jim O’Donnell’s Sports and Media section appears three times a week, including Thursday and Sunday. Contact him at [email protected]

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