Naperville Mayor Under Fire For Bears Meeting While Chicago Officials Hope A New Door Has Opened
Naperville Mayor Scott Wehrli is playing defense with his own city after meeting with Chicago Bears officials late last week about the prospect of bringing a $5B suburban stadium and entertainment complex within Naperville city limits.
At a city council meeting Tuesday, Wehrli faced criticism from community members and a council representative who said Wehrli hadn't consulted with the council before meeting with Bears President Kevin Warren Friday. The meeting followed a letter from Wehrli asking the Bears to consider Naperville — a letter not shared with the council beforehand.
"These conversations are just that. They're conversations," Wehrli told the council, according to the Daily Herald.
"No development proposal was submitted to the city. No incentives were discussed, requested or offered by either party in these meetings. No decisions have been made by anyone at city hall. We will follow our established procedures if an idea evolves into an official development proposal."
For months, the Bears gave every signal they would move forward with plans to move from their century-old Soldier Field home to Arlington Heights, spending $197.2M to buy Arlington International Racecourse and even beginning demolition on the site.
But last week, as news of the Naperville meeting trickled out, the Bears issued a statement indicating Arlington Heights “is no longer our singular focus.” The statement pointed to wrangling over property tax assessments for the Arlington Heights site as a major factor in expanding the search.
The meeting between Naperville’s mayor and Warren came as a surprise to many, including Naperville Councilman Ian Holzhauer, who took to social media to protest being kept in the dark.
"I had no part in the Bears stadium letter even though it purported to be 'on behalf of the city of Naperville,'" Holzhauer said, per Crain’s Chicago Business. "Ordinarily nine council members would listen to your input before issuing a statement on your behalf. I learned of the Bears letter in real time, just like you."
Wehrli attempted to tamp down the criticism, the outlet reported, saying any serious deal would require multiple levels of review. But the apparent reopening of the Bears’ site selection process has other communities buzzing and the city of Chicago once again hoping there is still a play to keep the team in the Windy City.
State Rep. Kam Buckner, a Chicago Democrat, told Crain’s Chicago might now be back in the game.
"Everything ought to be on the table," he told Crain’s. "It depends on what the team really wants."
Former Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot had proposed revamping the 99-year-old Soldier Field and its environs, including adding a dome to make the stadium more viable year-round.
Whether that option is still on offer is unknown, though new Mayor Brandon Johnson and Warren exchanged a courtesy call following Johnson's inauguration.
No formal meeting is on the books between the two, per Crain’s, though Johnson senior adviser Jason Lee said the mayor would welcome such a conversation.
"The mayor wants to communicate," Lee said. "There may be some opportunities that haven't been explored."