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Friends of the Parks v. Chicago Park District

February 21, 2003


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Kilbride

Docket No. 93852-Agenda 17-November 2002.

Plaintiffs, Friends of the Parks, together with 11 individual members of that organization and the Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois, sued the Chicago Park District (Park District), the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority (Authority), the Chicago Bears Football Club, Inc. (Bears), the Chicago Bears Stadium L.L.C. (Stadium), and the City of Chicago (City) seeking a declaratory judgment that section 3 of the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority Act (Act) (70 ILCS 3205/1 et seq. (West 2000)), as amended by Public Act 91-0935, eff. June 1, 2001, is unconstitutional. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss, alleging, inter alia, that plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge the legislation. The trial court dismissed all but two counts of plaintiffs' complaint and, subsequently, granted defendants' motion for summary judgment. Plaintiffs appealed pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 301 (155 Ill. 2d R. 301). We granted leave to appeal directly to this court pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 302(b) (134 Ill. 2d R. 302(b)) and granted leave to Openlands Project to file a brief as amicus curiae (see 155 Ill. 2d R. 345). The only issues for our determination are whether the legislation: (1) violates the requirement in article VIII, section 1(a), of the Illinois Constitution that public funds, property or credit shall be used only for public purposes (see Ill. Const. 1970, art. VIII, §1(a)); (2) violates the public trust doctrine; and (3) was enacted in violation of the three-readings requirement in article IV, section 8(d), of the Illinois Constitution (see Ill. Const. 1970, art. IV, §8(d)). We answer all three questions in the negative and affirm the judgment of the trial court.


Section 3 of the Act is essentially enabling legislation permitting the public financing of physical improvements to Burnham Park, including Soldier Field on Chicago's lakefront. Soldier Field occupies land that once was navigable water of Lake Michigan. It was opened as Municipal Grant Park Stadium in 1924 and has, since that time, been used for a variety of public events, including professional boxing matches, high school and college football games, professional soccer matches, tennis tournaments, religious convocations and, since 1971, Chicago Bears football games. From that year until 1980, the Bears used the field on game days under a series of annual and biannual permit use agreements. The Bears and the Park District entered into a long term lease in 1980, expiring in 2000.

The Act created the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority and authorized it to finance, construct, own, and operate sports facilities in the City of Chicago, including baseball and football stadiums. The Act contains the following findings:

"It is hereby found that as a result of deteriorating infrastructure and sports facilities in the metropolitan area of Chicago, there is a shortage of facilities suitable for use by professional and other sports teams and musical, theatrical, cultural, and other social organizations.

It is further found that as a result of the costs to maintain, repair or replace such infrastructure and facilities, and as a result of current high financing costs, the private sector, without the assistance contemplated in this Act, is unable to construct feasibly adequate sports facilities.

It is further found that the creation of modern sports facilities and the other results contemplated by this Act would stimulate economic activity in the State of Illinois, including the creation and maintenance of jobs, the creation of new and lasting infrastructure and other improvements, and the attraction and retention of sports and entertainment events which generate economic activity.

It is further found that professional sports facilities can be magnets for substantial interstate tourism resulting in increased retail sales, hotel and restaurant sales, and entertainment industry sales, all of which increase jobs and economic growth.

It is further found that only three major league professional baseball franchises play in stadium facilities the construction of which has not been government-assisted and of those three the most recently constructed facility was completed in 1914." 70 ILCS 3205/3 (West 2000) (as amended by Pub. Act 91-0935, eff. June 1, 2001).

Under the Act, the Authority received revenue from hotel taxes, and this revenue funded payments on bonds issued by the Authority to finance the construction of the new Comiskey Park. In the year 2000, when tax revenues exceeded the amount necessary for the Authority to fulfill its obligations to Comiskey Park, the Bears, in conjunction with the National Football League (NFL), offered to commit $200 million to a project to improve Soldier Field. In response to the Bears' offer, the legislature amended the Act to include the following additional legislative findings:

"It is further found that government assistance was or is an essential component in the financing of the construction of most recently built or planned National Football League stadiums.

It is further found that the exercise by the Authority and governmental owners of the additional powers conferred by this amendatory Act of the 91st General Assembly (i) will materially assist the development and redevelopment of government owned sports facilities and thereby alleviate in part the deleterious conditions and confer the public benefits described in this Section and (ii) is in the public interest and is declared to be for public purposes." 70 ILCS 3205/3 (West 2000) (as amended by Pub. Act 91-0935, eff. June 1, 2001).

Other amendments to the Act authorized the Authority to issue $399 million in bonds (70 ILCS 3205/13(G) (West 2000) (as amended by Pub. Act 91-0935, eff. June 1, 2001)) and to enter into contracts for implementation of an improvement project. Specifically, the Authority was authorized to enter into an "[a]ssistance [a]greement" with a "governmental owner" of a "facility" as defined in the Act. 70 ILCS 3205/2(E), 8(11) (West 2000) (as amended by Pub. Act 91-0935, eff. June 1, 2001). Under the Act, a "governmental owner" includes a unit of local government, such as the Park District, "that owns or is to own a facility located within the corporate limits of the Authority *** and to which the Authority provides financial assistance." 70 ILCS 3205/2(C) (West 2000) (as amended by Pub. Act 91-0935, eff. June 1, 2001).

The enabling legislation also amends the Chicago Park District Act to allow the Park District to enter into an "assistance agreement" with respect to any "facility" owned by the Park District. 70 ILCS 1505/15d(1) (West 2000). The Park District is also authorized to enter into a lease, license, or agreement with a sports team or involving a "facility" upon such terms and conditions as may be determined by the Park District. 70 ILCS 1505/15d(2) (West 2000).

The Authority, the Park District, the Bears, and the Stadium, as the developer, then entered into a series of agreements to accomplish a general project for the improvement of 97 acres of lakefront land owned by the Park District, surrounding Soldier Field, generally known as Burnham Park. The Authority issued its project certificate describing the scope of the project. Among other objectives, the Authority sought to: (1) adapt and reconstruct Soldier Field, and (2) construct an underground parking structure and a two-story above-ground parking structure and reconstruct a surface parking lot south of Soldier Field for use by the public, including patrons of Soldier Field, the museums, and other lakefront venues.

The terms and conditions of the project are set out principally in three separate agreements. In the "Burnham Park Development Agreement," the Park District, as owner, expressly approves various construction agreements entered into by the Stadium with the Park District's consent. In the "Development Assistance Agreement," the Park District, in conjunction with the Authority, contracts with the Bears to have the Stadium complete the design and construct the project in accordance with the Burnham Park development agreement. Finally, the "Permit and Operating Agreement" executed by the Park District, the Bears, and the Stadium sets forth the terms and conditions for the Bears' use of the renovated Soldier Field and certain surrounding areas.

Under the terms of the agreements, the Bears are designated as the primary sports user of the facility during the professional football season. They are entitled to use Soldier Field on game days as well as six times in a calendar year for club-related events. During the football season, the field itself is not to be used by any party, including the Park District and the Bears, for the five days preceding a game day. Upon written request, the Bears may use such other portions of the facility as the Park District may consent to in the exercise of its reasonable discretion. This right is limited to 34 events, related to the Bears and its sponsors, each year in addition to NFL game days, and is subject to previously scheduled events and the Park District's specifically reserved use rights. The permit agreement expires in the year 2033. Subject to certain limitations, the Bears have the option to extend the term for four additional five-year periods.

In their motion for summary judgment, plaintiffs argued that the terms of the permit agreement disproportionately favor the Bears over the Park District, especially when compared with the terms of the prior lease. They argued that, contrary to the statement of public purpose announced by the legislature, the Act overwhelmingly benefitted a private interest, rather than serving the declared public objectives announced in the Act. The motion was supported by an affidavit of a University of Chicago economics professor, consisting principally of a refutation of the legislature's findings that a new sports stadium, constructed largely with public financing, would serve its announced purposes. The trial court considered the affidavit, found it to be irrelevant, and denied plaintiffs' motion. The trial court granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment because it was precluded from inquiring into the merits or accuracy of the legislative findings.


Taken with the case was defendants' motion to strike the statement of facts in plaintiffs' brief for failure to comply with Supreme Court Rule 341(e)(6) (134 Ill. 2d R. 341(e)(6)). That rule requires that facts necessary to an understanding of the case be "stated accurately and fairly without argument or comment." Although we believe the plaintiffs' recitation of the facts to be generally accurate, it is certainly argumentative and in violation of the rule. While we decline to strike the plaintiffs' factual summary, we admonish counsel to be mindful in the future of the requirement to eschew argument.

Turning to the substance of the appeal, the decision to grant or deny a motion for summary judgment or a motion to dismiss is reviewed de novo. Outboard Marine Corp. v. Liberty Mutual Insurance Co., 154 Ill. 2d 90, 102 (1992) (summary judgment); Board of Managers of the Village Centre Condominium Ass'n, Inc. v. Wilmette Partners, 198 Ill. 2d 132, 137 (2001) (motion to dismiss). The applicable standard for reviewing legislative enactments was articulated in In re Marriage of Lappe, 176 Ill. 2d 414 (1997). In Lappe, the trial court found certain sections of the Public Aid Code unconstitutional on their face. Lappe, 176 Ill. 2d at 421. We began our analysis by observing:

"It is well established that legislative enactments enjoy a heavy presumption of constitutionality. [Citations.] The party challenging the constitutionality of a statue has the burden of clearly establishing its invalidity. [Citations.] Courts have a duty to sustain legislation whenever possible and resolve all ...

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