Bears Close Arlington Heights Deal, Move Closer To New Stadium

The Chicago Bears have moved a step closer toward relocating the team to the northwest suburbs, closing on their $197 million purchase of a 326-acre site in Arlington Heights.

They had previously announced plans to build a $2 billion enclosed stadium on the former site of the Arlington International Racecourse, with the stadium in the center of a $5 billion retail and residential development. Their lease at Soldier Field runs through 2033 but contains escape language. The Chicago Tribune has reported they could leave as soon as 2026 by paying an $84 million penalty.

This is a bold change of direction by the McCaskey family, which has never had an ownership stake in the Bears’ stadium. The plan is to build a state-of-the-art facility that can host events like the Super Bowl and the NCAA Final Four.

Major funding issues remain, however. While the Bears have said they will pay for construction of the stadium — with help from the NFL — they have asked for taxpayers to pay for the infrastructure, including new roads, utilities and increased access for an existing train stop.

“Finalizing the purchase does not guarantee the land will be developed, but it is an important next step in our ongoing evaluation of the opportunity,” the team said in a statement on Wednesday. “There is still a tremendous amount of due diligence work to be done to determine if …(this) is feasible.”

There is a proposal in the Illinois legislature to freeze property tax assessments for up to 40 years as a means to facilitate “mega projects” like a stadium complex. It is unclear if the measure has enough support to pass, however.

Arlington Heights Mayor Thomas Hayes worked with the franchise on the purchase of the site but has said residents’ concerns have been raised. Illinois Gov. J.P. Pritzker has stated his opposition to state subsidies for the team’s move from the Chicago suburbs to the lakefront.

Chicago is only two weeks away from a mayoral election. Lori Lightfoot appeared caught off guard by the team’s exploration of a stadium outside of the city but has since proposed upgrades to Soldier Field, including a plan to add a dome. That plan would come with a proposed cost of $2.2 billion, and Lightfoot has not said how that would be funded.