Arlington Heights no longer ‘our singular focus’ as Bears listen to Naperville’s pitch

Chicago Bears
Chicago Bears(MGN)
Published: Jun. 3, 2023 at 12:52 AM CDT
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(AP and 25News Now) - The Chicago Bears say they are considering abandoning their plan to build an enclosed stadium and entertainment complex on a suburban tract of land they recently purchased in Arlington Heights.

At the same time, the Bears are listening to overtures from Naperville, another Chicago suburb.

Citing a property assessment they said is too high, the Bears announced in a statement Friday that building on a 326-acre site in Arlington Heights, Illinois, is “no longer our singular focus.”

“It is our responsibility to listen to other municipalities in Chicagoland about potential locations that can deliver on this transformational opportunity for our fans, our club and the State of Illinois,” the team said.

The Bears announced in February they purchased the site of the shuttered Arlington International Racecourse from Churchill Downs Inc. for $197.2 million.

“The stadium-based project remains broadly popular in Arlington Heights, Chicagoland and the state,” the team said. “However, the property’s original assessment at five times the 2021 tax value, and the recent settlement with Churchill Downs for 2022 being three times higher, fails to reflect the property is not operational and not commercially viable in its current state.”

The Bears plan to pay for their stadium, but want taxpayer dollars to cover infrastructure costs, such as roads and sewers. The team said demolition work on the racetrack will continue.

Also on Friday, a spokesperson for the City of Naperville, Linda LaCloche, sent a statement to 25News confirming Mayor Scott Wehrli has reached out to Bears new President and CEO Kevin Warren.

“Last week, Mayor Wehrli reached out to the Chicago Bears organization to introduce Naperville as a thriving community with multiple opportunities for business investment. With economic development as one of his primary focuses, the Mayor will continue to highlight Naperville’s benefits to businesses throughout Chicagoland and across the country. These benefits include having the second largest economy in Illinois, along with a highly educated workforce, top ranked public safety, a vibrant downtown, excellent public transit and close proximity to major interstates, making it an attractive community for all types of business investment.”

Meantime, the Village of Arlington Heights posted on its website that its leaders expected the Bears to look at other viable sites, but they believe the former race track is a “unique one of a kind location.”

“The Village received word from the Chicago Bears Football Club today regarding their response to another municipality’s communications about alternative sites for a new NFL Stadium. The Village has always expected that the club would explore any and all viable locations as part of their due diligence process. However, the former Arlington International Racecourse site is a unique one-of-a-kind location with easy access to O’Hare Airport, I-90, and Route 53; includes a dedicated Metra Station and is located in the heart of the Northwest Suburbs. It is clear that the Chicago Bears Football Club understands the unique potential of this site, as evidenced by their recent purchase of the property. The Village is committed to work with the club and all other regional stakeholders to continue to explore the potential redevelopment of this site and to work through the inevitable challenges that come with any large development effort.”

The Bears envision restaurants, retail and more on the property some 30 miles northwest of Soldier Field — all for about $5 billion, with some taxpayer help.

The city of Chicago proposed last summer enclosing Soldier Field and increasing its capacity from a league-low 61,500. But the Bears repeatedly insisted the only possibilities they were considering were for the Arlington Heights site.

Soldier Field on Chicago’s lakefront has been the Bears’ home since 1971. The team played at Wrigley Field from 1921 to 1970, and if a new stadium is constructed, the franchise would have its name on the mortgage for the first time since arriving in Chicago.

Economic analysts have said building a Bears entertainment district would create more than 48,000 jobs and generate $9.4 billion for the local economy.