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Bears say they're eyeing a new home in Chicago, a shift in focus from a move to the suburbs

CHICAGO (AP) — The Chicago Bears are prepared to provide more than $2 billion in funding toward a publicly owned stadium in the city, signaling a shift in focus away from building a new home in the suburbs.

“The future stadium of the Chicago Bears will bring a transformative opportunity to our region — boosting the economy, creating jobs, facilitating mega events and generating millions in tax revenue,” team president Kevin Warren said Monday in a statement. "We look forward to sharing more information when our plans are finalized.”

The Bears are eyeing the south parking lot at Soldier Field, their home since 1971, as the site for an enclosed lakefront stadium. The new facility could host Super Bowls and Final Fours.

The Bears spent $197.2 million more than a year ago to purchase the site of the shuttered Arlington International Racecourse from Churchill Downs Inc. in suburban Arlington Heights. The team envisioned building a stadium on the 326-acre tract of land some 30 miles northwest of Soldier Field, with restaurants, retail and more on the property — all for about $5 billion, with some taxpayer help.

The Bears said they would pay for the stadium in Arlington Heights, with taxpayer dollars covering infrastructure costs such as roads and sewers. Those plans stalled, with the team citing a property assessment it said was too high.

The Bears began listening to pitches from other suburbs and turned their attention toward remaining in the city. An ordinance in Chicago generally prohibits private development along the lakefront. A nonprofit group sued and in 2016 defeated a plan by filmmaker George Lucas to build a museum near Soldier Field.

Mayor Brandon Johnson has made it clear he wants to keep the team in the city. The Bears’ lease at Soldier Field runs through 2033.

“I have said all along that meaningful private investment and a strong emphasis on public benefit are my requirements for public-private partnerships in our city," he said. “The Chicago Bears plans are a welcome step in that direction and a testament to Chicago’s economic vitality. I look forward to subsequent talks with the Bears, state leadership and community stakeholders about how we can continue to responsibly support the aspirations of the team, its fans and all residents of the city of Chicago.”

Baseball's Chicago White Sox also are seeking public funding to build a stadium. They envision an open-air ballpark surrounded by restaurants, businesses and residences on a 62-acre parcel called “The 78” that is owned by development firm Related Midwest. It would be closer to downtown than their current home at Guaranteed Rate Field.

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