Chicago Bears Say Team Will Seek Public Dollars for Suburban Stadium Complex
The Chicago Bears professional football team plans to seek public funding to help pay for a multibillion-dollar mixed-use complex in the northwest suburbs, the organization acknowledged for the first time Tuesday in an open letter to the public ahead of a meeting scheduled for later this week.
In the letter, the NFL team does not plan to request public dollars for a stadium portion of the project in Arlington Heights, Illinois, seeking instead an unspecified amount of funding to support the broader redevelopment of the 326-acre Arlington International Racecourse.
The Bears also provided early conceptual renderings of the development, which would include a “stadium district” on the northwest portion of the site and a mixed-use development on the rest of the sprawling parcel previously used as a horse racing track.
Throughout the statement, the team emphasized its previously announced $197.2 million agreement to buy the property from owner Churchill Downs is not a done deal. The team also said there’s no guarantee the Bears will leave their longtime home, Chicago’s Soldier Field, even if the land acquisition is completed.
The statement lays the groundwork to ask for zoning approval and public dollars to support the plan, which the Bears say would be one of the biggest real estate projects in Illinois history, while leaving the door open to staying in Chicago if they don’t get backing they consider to be sufficient.
The letter and images were released two days ahead of the first of several expected meetings regarding the project. The 7 p.m. Central meeting Thursday is set for John Hersey High School in Arlington Heights.
“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,” the team's letter said.
It continued: “We are taking serious steps to evaluate the unique opportunity presented to us. The Bears remain committed to Soldier Field and will honor the terms of its lease. While the prospect of a transit-oriented mixed-use and entertainment district anchored by a new enclosed stadium is exciting for the Bears and the entire state, there is much work to be done before we can close on the property, and then, whether we will develop it. We look forward to working with key partners and stakeholders across the Chicagoland community and the state of Illinois in the months ahead.”
The Bears have not said how many seats the stadium would have or how much the total project is expected to cost.
But the statement did provide glimpses of the team’s overall vision, including plans to have residential, office, hotel, entertainment, restaurant, fitness, park and other space alongside a modern football venue.
The Bears said they want to build a “best-in-class enclosed stadium” that also could host events such as the Super Bowl, college football playoffs and NCAA basketball Final Four games.
Those are events Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Chicago wants to have in a domed version of Soldier Field, which is part of her plan to keep the Bears in place.
Construction of the Arlington Heights complex would create more than 48,000 jobs and $9.4 billion in economic impact, according to the team’s letter. It would create 9,750 long-term jobs, generating $1.4 billion in annual economic impact for the Chicago area, the letter said.
The completed project would provide annual property tax revenue of $9.8 million for Cook County and $51.3 million for the state, according to the letter. The village of Arlington Heights would collect $16 million per year in other tax revenues.
Renderings are conceptual, showing only a rough layout of the sprawling complex. They do not show specific details of how the stadium or other structures would look.
Formerly known as the Decatur Staleys, the football team — one of the NFL’s original franchises — moved to Chicago from central Illinois in 1921 and changed its name to the Bears in 1922.
The Bears have never owned their Chicago field, playing at the Chicago Cubs’ Wrigley Field until 1971 and the Chicago Park District-owned Soldier Field since. Soldier Field has the smallest capacity in the league, with 61,500 seats.
The Bears’ lease at Soldier Field ends in 2033.
Owning a new stadium would allow the Bears’ owners, members of the McCaskey family, to schedule and collect revenue from events. One model for that is SoFi Stadium near Los Angeles, home to the Rams and Chargers and host of the most recent Super Bowl.
Soldier Field also is home to Major League Soccer’s Chicago Fire. Lightfoot recently unveiled plans to potentially cover Soldier Field and increase capacity to 70,000 seats in a last-ditch effort to keep the Bears from leaving the lakefront stadium.