The Bears moving to Arlington Heights are on a smooth-sailing road, especially as the Arlington Heights community is willing to welcome the Bears with open arms.
In this article, I will share the 8 biggest news about Chicago Bears’ move to Arlington Heights.
The Bears officially announced back in September 2020, its plans to purchase Arlington Park.
Even with many Chicago city officials protesting this move, the Bears are determined to take this massive project.
They are set to purchase 326 acres of land and redevelop the Arlington International Racecourse for $197.2 million, with full support from the Arlington Heights government under Mayor Tom Hayes.
So let’s get down to business. Here are the latest news updates about the Chicago Bears moving from Soldier Field to Arlington Heights.
1. The Chicago Bears owners are committed to moving to Arlington Heights
The most important news update about the Chicago Bears’ real estate moves is their strong commitment to Arlington Heights.
They released a statement: “The only potential project the Chicago Bears are exploring for a new stadium development is Arlington Park. As part of our mutual agreement with the seller of that property, we are not pursuing alternative stadium deals or sites, including renovations to Soldier Field, while we are under contract.”
And to understand this unrelenting commitment by the Chicago Bears owners, we must first look at the Bears’ history with stadiums.
In 1970, the Bears played home games at Dyche Stadium. Chicago Bears founder George Halas liked that site and wanted to move his team there.
But his attempt was thwarted by town residents and the Big Ten Conference denying permission to play there, despite a five-year agreement between the franchise and the university.
So Halas looked for other places.
The first place he found was the racecourse property in Arlington Heights.
But in 1971, that property didn’t have the seating capacity to meet the NFL’s requirements of at least 50,000 seats.
And that time Halas had to turn to Soldier Field because of the lack of means to expand it.
So Virginia McCaskey’s plan to move to Arlington Heights is going full circle with her father’s vision.
There are speculations that the Chicago Bears will name the new building George S. Halas stadium.
And they are also buying the Arlington Park property outright to free the Bears from the burden of leases from the Wrigley Company and not the Chicago Park District.
With the northern suburbs’ ample space, they can get more profits from their family-run business.
They can get partners or a joint venture for real estate. And some clear advantages over Soldier Field are NFL’s backed charter franchise and revenue from personal seat licenses, stadium naming rights, and more luxury suites.
2. The Bears released their pre-development plans
On September 8, 2022, the Bears officials conducted an informational meeting with the Arlington Heights residents at John Hersey High School.
There the Bears showed their $5 billion project for the stadium and mixed-use development.
The Bears pledged to reimburse the Arlington Heights board for the cost of hiring two consulting firms to conduct economic and transportation impact studies.
The board paid for a traffic study to address concerns about traffic congestion.
The findings of this particular study state that Arlington Heights would need an effective transportation system, which means millions of dollars in transportation infrastructure.
The economic impact study also shows the promise of more than 50,000 jobs and more than a billion dollars in revenue for the community.
The Bears team said, “While the Bears will seek no public funding for direct stadium structure construction, given the broad, long-term public benefits of this project, 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.”
This project is unquestionably much more than just a stadium.
It will involve entertainment, retail, and housing.
Although the project is still under intense planning and negotiations, the Bears promise amenities that the neighborhood can use, such as new parks and open spaces, restaurants, businesses, hotels, fitness facilities, and other improvements.
The Bears envision this development to be a mixed-use district anchored by the new, best-in-class enclosed Chicago Bears stadium, which will make a new sports home worthy of hosting global events such as the Super Bowl, College Football Playoffs, and Final Four.
The Chicago Bears’ new stadium could include a new minor league baseball complex
According to the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Bears have included a minor league baseball complex in the site proposal.
The additional baseball league fields came from William Larsen, former general manager of the Kane County Cougars minor league team.
He emailed Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes that the baseball fields would host four to six teams of undrafted college players in a 4,000-seat stadium.
Larsen stresses the need for this minor league baseball complex because scouts and professional baseball experts want to help undrafted players to chase their dreams of playing professionally.
He estimates that the minor league could draw 450,000 fans per year and would offer summer programming during the NFL’s offseason.
Brandon Faber, the Bears' Vice President of Communications, said that they are still in the due diligence process on the Arlington Park property with our accomplished team of land-use experts. This includes the feasibility of the minor league baseball complex.
Projected Impact of The Bears’ development
The construction alone would create more than 48,000 jobs, $9.4 billion in economic impact for Chicagoland, and $3.9 billion in labor income.
Once the district is complete and open, there will be more than 9,750 long-term jobs, $1.4 billion in annual economic impact for Chicagoland, and $601 million in annual labor income.
It will also generate $16 million in annual tax revenue in addition to property taxes for Arlington Heights, $9.8 million for Cook County, and $51.3 million for the State of Illinois.
But amid these promising economic progress, job growth, and tax revenue annually, residents worry about traffic and congestion in Arlington Heights.
The stadium is expected to accommodate more than the 61,500 capacity of Soldier Field so it will lead to thousands more cars into the site bordered by Route 53, Route 14, New Wilke Road, and Euclid Avenue.
And the residents are also concerned about overcrowding that could congest roads and public spaces.
Currently, the plans show heavy use of Metra's Arlington Park station on the UP-Northwest Line, two new underpasses at Route 53 and Northwest Highway connecting with parking, improvements to ramps at Euclid and a pedestrian underpass at the Arlington Park train station, or a grade-separated crossing to keep fans safe.
3. Chicago Bears hired sports architecture firms to evaluate Arlington Heights
Third: As the Chicago Bears prepare to move from Soldier Field to Arlington Heights, they hired Kansas City-based MANICA Architecture, Chicago-based real estate brokerage firm Jones Lang LaSalle and CAA Icon, a Denver-based sports facility consulting firm.
These firms are top-notch in the sports architecture, design, and construction industries.
In fact, MANICA recently worked on the Las Vegas Raiders’ new $2 billion Allegiant Stadium and the San Francisco Warriors Chase Center.
The Chicago Bears are keen to create their own stadium in Arlington Heights.
They need to keep up with the other NFL stadiums that could seat thousands of fans and engage them with food, entertainment, and shopping centers.
The architecture firms will work with Chicago Bears to help them with the necessary blueprints and plans to present to Arlington Heights government officials.
4. Arlington Heights Board unanimously rejected the petition banning business subsidies
The Arlington Heights village board unanimously rejected a proposed ordinance that would have prohibited Arlington Heights from offering tax incentives, abatements, or fee reductions to any business wanting to open a site inside village limits.
The board members vehemently opposed the ordinance, arguing that it would make their community less competitive than others in drawing a variety of businesses.
They all agreed that the way it was drafted would restrict the village from supporting future projects and businesses in addition to the Chicago Bears.
"I do not support such an extreme amount of restrictive ordinance that prevents this board or any future board from making the needed financial decisions for the common good and for the best future of our village," said Trustee Nicolle Grasse.
The contentious petition comes from the conservative group Americans for Prosperity, funded by Charles and David Koch.
The group will still persist to oppose public funding for the project. If enough signatures from 12% of the registered voters are collected, the initiative could be placed on the ballot even without trustee approval.
They found support from the University of Chicago Professor Allen Sanderson who said that there is little financial gain and a lot of danger in football stadiums.
The group also showed how Chicago itself will still pay for the renovations of Soldier Field, long after the Bears leave that site.
The Arlington Heights board said that the petition would lead to a competitive disadvantage for the community.
Mayor Tom Hayes said, “We don’t think it’s something that’s in the best interest of the village. If something like this is enacted, then all those businesses are going elsewhere, and how will that benefit our residents?”
5. Arlington Heights officials don’t agree with the Bears’ preliminary plans
The Arlington Heights Village Board trustees are apprehensive about the impact of the Bears’ residential and commercial district in their downtown area.
They fear the shops there will compete with local businesses.
Trustee Jim Tinaglia said: “I am all in on getting this done for this redevelopment agreement, but I can’t buy into this site plan. I can’t buy into what it means and how detrimental I think it will be for our businesses downtown.”
Local entrepreneurs such as the owners of Hey Nonny and Peggy Kinnane have realistic and hopeful expectations about the stadium. They say that this could help both new and current businesses. They want the developers to plan well so that there's enough business for everybody.
Another point of friction during the meeting was the matter of public transportation and accessibility to the new stadium. The Bears and the Arlington Heights Board disagreed on the solution to heavier traffic on game days.
The Bears proposed simply improving the current Arlington Heights Metra station. But the Board wants a new train station to facilitate the large crowds.
And the last contentious issue in the Bears’ proposal was the funding.
Arlington Heights officials said they would need to see the financial benefits of the mixed-use district before they can agree to dedicate public funding to build it.
On the other hand, Chicago Mayor Lightfoot is exploring other options for Soldier Field, as the Chicago Bears prepare to leave.
6. Lightfoot creates a working group to consider the future of Soldier Field
Mayor Lori Lightfoot created a working group to recommend new uses for Soldier Field and the rest of the 57-acre lakeside museum campus.
This 23-person group is under the helm of Mesirow CEO Richard Price.
The working group for Soldier Field aims to draw year-round tourism to the Shedd Aquarium, the Field Museum, the Adler Planetarium, and McCormick Place as well.
And because the Bears' move to Arlington Heights was a factor in the creation of this group, the baseball team does not have a representative here.
Cabrera Capital CEO Martin Cabrera will serve as the group’s athletic facilities lead, Metropolitan Planning Council CEO Darlene Hightower will be transit access lead, Openlands CEO Gerald Adelmann will be space and recreation lead and Chicago Cultural Affairs Commissioner Michelle T. Boone will be cultural amenities lead.
The group will work with city departments and local aldermen.
The working group released a proposal report on Soldier Field improvements on July 7.
This report included a dome installation, stadium renovations, multiple upgrades to Northerly Island, a pedestrian bridge over the harbor, land expansion, a new concert venue on the north side of Soldier Field, a Bears tailgate plaza, a trolley line, and other new transit, art installations and outdoor areas such as Solidarity Drive alongside the stadium.
The city plans this, keeping in mind also that Soldier Field is home to a Major League Soccer team, the Chicago Fire.
But the group’s recommendations are unfeasible in Chicago.
Most propositions would violate ordinances created by the park district, disrupt veteran groups who've responded to changing the name of the stadium, and cost taxpayers millions if not nearly a billion dollars.
7. The Arlington Heights Plan Commission endorsed a sportsbook rezoning amendment
On October 12, 2022, the Arlington Heights Plan Commission endorsed unanimously to the Village Board the zoning amendment for the Arlington International Racecourse site.
This will allow developers to build a sports betting facility there.
The Village Board approved in July 2021 an ordinance that established the Arlington International Race Course Overlay Zoning District, laying out basic requirements for any future development on the 326-acre site.
The ordinance mandates that this sports betting facility is part of an approved professional sports stadium.
Under current NFL rules, the Bears could partner with a sports betting operator that would legally hold the state sports wagering license.
Here they have a sponsorship agreement with Rivers Casino in Des Plaines and its BetRivers sportsbook since June 2021.
"We can own the land and we can own the building and we can have a partnership," Cliff Stein, the Bears' general counsel said.
8. Arlington Heights Board Approves Pre-Development Plan
On November 7, 2022, the Arlington Heights Board of trustees approved the Bears’ pre-development plan.
It is non-binding, but an agreed-upon framework and goals for the development of the site.
The Bears officials said that it is a good faith agreement to work together to cooperate towards the exploration of the redevelopment of this property.
Practically speaking, the Chicago Bears are on track to move from Soldier Field to Arlington Heights.
Both the Bears and the Arlington Heights community seem optimistic about this development.
The Bears will close on the Arlington Park property by late 2022 or early 2023.
And the Chicago city government is also working on the new future of Soldier Field - without the Chicago Bears team.
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