Tuesday, the Chicago Bears released a lengthy statement alongside the first renderings of a sprawling master plan to acquire and potentially redevelop 326 acres of property in Arlington Heights at the site of the town's former Arlington Park, a nearly 100-year-old horse racecourse once dubbed "The most beautiful racetrack in America."
"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 statement reads.
The potential move -- currently under contract and still far from closed -- isn't without its fair share of controversy, with the city of Chicago trying to convince the Bears to stay, and some Arlington Heights residents speaking out against having to potentially foot the bill for a new build.
The Chicago Bears are set to provide more information about their plans during a public meeting 7 p.m. Thursday at Hersey High School in Arlington Heights
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As that community meeting approaches, here are five things to know about the project.
The New Stadium Would Be a Part of "Multi-Purpose Entertainment" District
According to the statement the Bears released Tuesday, 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.
"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 reads.
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.
It's Still Not a Done Deal, and it Won't Be For Awhile
In their letter Tuesday, 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 on Sept. 19.
The Bears Aren't Very Happy With Soldier Field
Almost every stadium in the league far exceeds Soldier Field’s comfort and amenities, and late-season games on the lakefront can be brutally cold.
Soldier Field has the NFL’s smallest capacity, at about 62,000. There are 13 stadiums that can hold 70,000-plus, and most of those are in smaller markets than the Chicago area.
It has also been problematic for the Bears to rent the stadium from the Chicago Park District rather than owning their own building. That arrangement severely limits what they can do with the facility and cuts into revenue.
Additionally, the stadium's poor grass conditions, which are maintained by the Chicago Park District, have been longtime thorn for the team.
While their current home at Soldier Field is historic, its stature is diminished by its deficiencies compared to state-of-the-art stadiums around the NFL. Soldier Field opened in 1924 and earned National Historic Landmark status in 1984 before losing it in 2006 after renovations left it with a mismatched look as though a spaceship had landed on top of the iconic columns.
Building a stadium in Arlington Heights would immediately put the area in line to host a Super Bowl (currently sites are scheduled through the 2025 game). The league has rewarded every team that has done so with a Super Bowl, even if it’s not part of the regular rotation. The Vikings’ U.S. Bank Stadium opened in 2016 and hosted the Super Bowl in 2018.
Chicago Wants Them to Stay
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.
"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.
Much Still Needs to Happen First
The Bears are in escrow for the former Arlington Racetrack site, for which they signed a $197.2 million purchase agreement last year. President/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.
But a sooner milestone is Thursday, when a community meeting between the team and Arlington Heights residents is planned.
The meeting, which will be held from 7-9 p.m. Thursday at John Hersey High School in Arlington Heights, will detail what a Bears statement called “one of the largest development projects in Illinois state history.” Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes said neither he nor members of the Arlington Heights village board would be part of the community meeting intended to field concerns and suggestions from residents of the suburb.
The meeting will be first come, first served, according to the team, with doors opening at 5:30 p.m.
"The meeting will include opening remarks from team leadership and conceptual plans for a transit-oriented mixed-use entertainment district anchored by a stadium that would be one of the largest development projects in Illinois state history," the team said in a statement.