If the Chicago Bears were to trek to a new facility in Arlington Heights, how would Soldier Field soldier on?
As plans about the team's massive move circulate, the reality of its possibility is starting to settle.
The team released Tuesday a lengthy statement with the first renderings of a sprawling master plan to acquire and potentially redevelop 326 acres of property in the suburb's former Arlington Park, a nearly 100-year-old horse racecourse once dubbed "the most beautiful racetrack in America."
Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the city of Chicago haven't stopped trying to lure the Bears to keep playing at the famed spot in the heart of the city, with Lightfoot's administration releasing plans over the summer for three potential renovations of the historic stadium.
Feeling out of the loop? We'll catch you up on the Chicago news you need to know. Sign up for the weekly Chicago Catch-Up newsletter here.
"Not surprisingly, we are doing what we believe is making a compelling case for the Chicago Bears to stay in Chicago. They want a tier one stadium environment to maximize revenues, and we agree that we are going to keep making the case to the Bears, the NFL and public that a revitalized Soldier Field makes the most economic sense for that storied franchise," Lightfoot said during an address at the time.
According to the mayor's office, improvements would include:
- Expanding seating from 61,500 seats up to 70,000 total seats including additional fan activation areas
- Increasing the number of traditional suites from 133 to 140
- Adding six new major club and experiential areas
- Quadrupling the food and beverage square footage from 50,000 square feet to 200,000 square feet
- Adding secondary club and activation areas to as many as 20.
- Creating more flexible event space and multi-purpose venues including up to four venues with capacity ranging from 5,000 to 60,000 or more
See renderings of the three proposals here.
In their letter Tuesday, the team made clear that nothing is guaranteed about the potential move from Soldier Field, as much remains uncertain — including what a new stadium would cost to build, and how it would be paid for.
"We remain under contract to purchase the property, but there are conditions that must be met in order to be in a position to close. If we do close on the property, it does not guarantee we will develop it," the letter states, adding that, "while the Bears will seek no public funding for direct stadium structure construction ... we look forward to partnering with the various governmental bodies to secure additional funding and assistance needed to support the feasibility of the remainder of the development."
While a funding plan has not yet been announced, money was the topic of Tuesday's Arlington Heights' village board meeting, where an ordinance attempting to ban all corporate welfare in the village was introduced by Americans for Prosperity, a right-leaning political advocacy group founded by the Koch brothers.
As it is written, the ordinance would bar Arlington Heights from using tax money as an incentive to lure businesses to the community, and that could include the Bears.
That ordinance will be up for a vote at the next board meeting Sept. 19.
The Bears are in escrow for the former Arlington Racetrack site, for which they signed a $197.2 million purchase agreement last year. President and CEO Ted Phillips said in January he anticipated closing on the land to take until the end of this year and possibly even drag into early 2023.
“Our focus for long-term development is exclusively on that property at Arlington Park,” Phillips said in January.
The Bears said they "remain committed to Soldier Field and will honor the terms of its lease," which continues through 2032.
"If the team does proceed with the purchase of the Arlington Park property, and if the Bears organization then chooses to proceed with the development of the property, the project will be one of the largest development projects in Illinois state history," the team's statement from Tuesday reads.
According to the Bears, their plans aren't just to build a dome to host home games. "Make no mistake, this is much more than a stadium project," the team's statement reads.
According to the team, the 326-acre development would be massive.
According to the statement, that project and would include commercial and retail space and housing district as part of a "multi-purpose entertainment district anchored by a new, best-in-class enclosed stadium, providing Chicagoland with a new home worthy of hosting global events such as the Super Bowl, College Football Playoffs, and Final Four."
Long-term, the team's vision for the property "could include restaurants, office space, hotel, fitness center, new parks and open spaces, and other improvements for the community to enjoy."
Read the full letter from the team here.