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Bears Step Out On Arlington Heights As Stadium Site Search Widens To Naperville

After spending $197.2M to buy Arlington International Racecourse and even beginning demolition on the site, the Chicago Bears have their eyes on a different location for a $5B suburban stadium and entertainment complex.

A deal to move the team from the nearly century-old Soldier Field to Arlington Heights seemed as good as done, though Bears officials cautioned all along they hadn't made a final decision. That was underlined when Bears President Kevin Warren met with Naperville Mayor Scott Wehrli Friday afternoon to discuss building the project a few miles closer to the city, the Daily Herald reported.

The Chicago Bears have added Naperville to the mix of locations for a new stadium complex to replace their 99-year-old Soldier Field home.

“We will continue the ongoing demolition activity and work toward a path forward in Arlington Heights, but it is no longer our singular focus,” Scott Hagel, Bears senior vice president of marketing and communications, said in a statement to the newspaper. “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.”

The meeting was prompted by a May 24 letter from Wehrli to Warren, characterized as a formal introduction “as you consider or reassess your planned relocation,” according to the Daily Herald.

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

Wehrli, who has been in office about a month, touted Naperville’s transportation accessibility and business-friendliness, adding the city offers “several available or to-be-available sites that may fit the characteristics you are looking for in your future home.”

The meeting coincides with a formal statement from Bears management complaining new Cook County property assessments could make building in Arlington prohibitive.

“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 Friday 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 Churchill Downs for 2022 being three times higher, fails to reflect the property is not operational and not commercially viable in its current state.”

Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes told the Chicago Tribune that as a for-profit business, the Bears should explore other sites.

“I would be doing the same thing, explore all my options and pick the best one,” he told the Tribune. “I still think Arlington Heights is the best option.”