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The Chicago Bears’ possible move to northwest Indiana would be

November 16, 1995 GMT

GARY, Ind. (AP) _ The Chicago Bears’ possible move to northwest Indiana would be far better than losing the team entirely, according to the plan’s leaders.

A new, $205 million, open-air stadium would be built about 30 minutes from downtown Chicago under a plan unveiled Wednesday by Northwest Indiana-Chicagoland Entertainment Inc. The 75,000-seat stadium would be part of a $482 million sports and entertainment complex, Planet Park.

``With this prospect, football will still be football. The Chicago Bears will still be the Chicago Bears. Not the Baltimore Bears, not the Nashville Bears, not the L.A. Bears,″ said Gary Neale, chairman of NIPSCO Industries and the founder of NICE.

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The Bears play at Soldier Field in downtown Chicago, but their lease expires in 1999, and team president Mike McCaskey has made it clear the Bears need a better deal. Chicago officials have presented a $156 million proposal to refurbish Soldier Field.

No deals have been made, and the Bears will continue to look at both proposals, Bears vice president Ted Phillips said. The team would like to make a decision by the end of the year, but must make one by early 1996, he said.

If McCaskey accepts NICE’s proposal, the stadium would be ready for the 2000 season. The team would continue to be called the Chicago Bears.

Concerns have been raised about moving the Bears out of Illinois, but both Phillips and Neale said it should not be a major issue. Gary is as much a part of Chicago as any suburb and is, in some cases, closer to downtown Chicago, Neale said.

``Is there a concern? I would say there is a concern. But we’re still the Chicago Bears. ... It’s still part of Chicagoland,″ Phillips said. ``If this proposal ends up being viable, we’ll do everything we can to break down that perception of Indiana vs. Illinois.″

There are two phases to the development of the Indiana complex, which would be located northwest of the Gary Regional Airport on the southern shore of Lake Michigan.

The first, which would cost about $312 million, would include the stadium, a covered midway-entertainment concourse, a Chicago Bears Hall of Fame and parking for 25,000 cars.

The three-tiered stadium would have 9,000 club seats and 138 luxury skyboxes. Seats would be staggered so all fans would have a clear view of the field, project designer Ben Wood said. There would be no mid-level seats in the end zones.

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The second phase would include a nine-hole golf course, an amusement park, hotels, a 500,000-square foot retail shopping area and a recreational vehicle park with a campground. It would cost $170 million.

The first phase would be paid for with a combination of private and public funds, Neale said. NICE would sell taxable bonds, but it would also get money through personal seat licenses, rent and revenues from parking and concessions.

A 0.5 percent economic development income tax in Lake County, which has yet to be approved, would be used to pay interest on the bond debt, Neale said. It was not clear how much of the proposal would be paid for through bonds and how much through private investment.

The second phase would be paid for entirely through private investors, Neale said.

Neither the Bears nor the McCaskey family would contribute any funds to the project, Neale said. NICE would own the stadium and lease it to Lake County, which in turn would sublease it to the Bears.

The Bears would make at least $5 million a year more in concession deals if they stay in a refurbished Soldier Field, said Jim Williams, spokesman for mayor Richard Daley. The remodeling plan would add 4,000 seats and 64 skyboxes, and generate about $20 million in new revenue.

``We’re still pushing forward, trying to make that as attractive as it can be,″ Phillips said.