• Thu. May 23rd, 2024

Chicago Bears Suburban Site ‘No Longer Our Singular Focus’ for New Stadium, Team Says

Bynewsmagzines

Jun 2, 2023
The Chicago Bears proposed a $5 billion football stadium complex in Arlington Heights, Illinois. The team said it is now considering other locations for the mixed-use development. (Chicago Bears)

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Days after starting to clear a 326-acre site where the Chicago Bears would build a new suburban stadium complex, the NFL team said Friday it is opening the field to other municipalities interested in landing what could become one of the largest real estate projects in Illinois history.

New Bears President and CEO Kevin Warren talked Friday with the mayor of Naperville, Illinois, a large suburb west of Chicago, spokespeople for the team and city confirmed to CoStar News. In a statement issued Friday, the Bears said a site the team owns in Arlington Heights, Illinois, is “no longer our singular focus.”

The announcement comes three days after crews began interior demolition on the grandstand and other structures in the former Arlington International Raceway, which the Bears bought for $197.2 million earlier this year.

The Bears’ meeting Friday with Naperville Mayor Scott Wehrli gives the team more options. It also could provide leverage as the team seeks zoning approval from Arlington Heights, public dollars to help fund the $5 billion project and a reduction in property taxes for the former horse-racing venue in the village.

The Bears have been planning a mixed-use development on the Arlington Heights site, with an enclosed football stadium as the centerpiece. The long-discussed project would move one of the NFL’s original franchises out of the city of Chicago, where its longtime home stadium is Soldier Field along Lake Michigan.

Previously, the team had reiterated it was focusing only on the Arlington Heights property and would not talk with other cities or land owners.

Friday’s statement by the Bears further reveals frustrations with the state of the Arlington Heights proposal, particularly related to an increased Cook County property tax bill after the team bought the former site along Euclid Avenue and Wilke Road in the northwest suburb earlier this year.

“The Chicago Bears goal of building the largest single development project in Illinois history led by billions of dollars in private capital investment, and the jobs and economic benefits generated, is at risk in Arlington Heights,” the team’s statement said. “The stadium-based project remains broadly popular in Arlington Heights, Chicagoland and the state. However, the property’s original assessment at five times the 2021 tax value, and the recent settlement with [former property owner] Churchill Downs for 2022 being three times higher, fails to reflect the property is not operational and not commercially viable in its current state.”

An Arlington Heights spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Bears first disclosed plans to clear the Arlington Heights site after Crain’s Chicago Business reported that Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi was moving to dramatically increase property taxes on the site, based on the sale price. The Bears argue that the sale price reflects the site’s long-term value for redevelopment and not its current value as a vacant property.

Amid the property tax dispute, the Bears earlier this week began initial work to clear the entire Arlington Heights site.

On Thursday, Cook County Board of Review Commissioner Samantha Steele announced a settlement between the former property owner and local school districts over the property’s valuation. But that deal only covers 2022 property tax bills.

“We will continue the ongoing demolition activity and work toward a path forward in Arlington Heights, but it is no longer our singular focus,” the Bears said in the statement. “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.”

Warren’s meeting with Wehrli came after the mayor wrote a letter to team officials, Naperville spokeswoman Linda LaCloche said in a statement to CoStar News.

“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,” LaCloche said in the statement. “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.”

In the letter dated May 24, Wehrli said he “would like to formally introduce our community to your organization as you consider or reassess your planned relocation.”

“The city would welcome the opportunity to review your business needs and our available properties,” the letter added.

The letter and Friday’s statements did not indicate which specific sites Naperville officials are discussing with the Bears. There are six development sites in the suburb of more than 100 acres, according to CoStar data. Two of those are more than 400 acres.

It’s unclear which of the sites, several of which are proposed for residential development, would be feasible for a stadium. It’s also possible a stadium venue could replace existing structures.

“We have several available or to-be-available sites that may fit the characteristics you are looking for in your future home,” Wehrli said in the letter.

Naperville is outside Cook County, with portions of the city in DuPage and Will counties.

In their effort to attract the Bears, Naperville officials are emphasizing accessibility by commuter train lines and interstates 88, 55 and 355.

The Bears’ owners, members of the McCaskey family, have said they want to leave their longtime Chicago stadium, where they are a tenant. They prefer a larger stadium the team would own, along with adjacent buildings with entertainment, retail, residential and hotel space that would bring in additional revenue year-round.

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