Bears release details on Arlington Heights stadium site, make case for public subsidy

The Chicago Bears will “seek no public funding for direct stadium structure construction” on the site of the Arlington International Racecourse, but the team will seek “additional funding and assistance” for the broader, mixed-use development it called one of the largest in Illinois history.

The Bears laid the groundwork for a tax increment financing subsidy or some other form of state or local assistance for the broader development on the 326-acre site in an open letter released just two days before a community meeting at which conceptual plans are expected to be released.

If the Bears exercise their option to purchase the property for $197.2 million and proceed with the broader development, it will be “one of the largest development projects in Illinois state history,” the letter states.

The “multi-purpose entertainment district” will be “anchored by a “best-in-class, enclosed stadium … worthy of hosting global events” such as the Super Bowl, college football playoffs and the NCAA’s Final Four basketball championships.

“Make no mistake. This is much more than a stadium project. Any development of Arlington Park will propose to include a multi-purpose entertainment, commercial/retail and housing district that will provide considerable economic benefits to Cook County, the surrounding region and the state of Illinois,” the letter states.

“The long-term vision for the entire project is an ongoing work in progress, but could include: restaurants, office space, hotel, fitness center, new parks and open spaces and other improvements for the community to enjoy.”

A map of the proposal for the site in Arlington Heights shows the stadium at one end of the property, with a mixed-use development taking up the remaining two-thirds.

Courtesy of Chicago Bears

In an apparent attempt to justify public help for the broader development amid local resistance, the Bears rolled out a series of tantalizing numbers to describe the potential economic impact of the project.

The numbers include: a $9.4 billion impact for “Chicagoland”; $3.9 billion in overall “labor income” at $601 million a year; 48,000 jobs, 9,750 of them “long-term” positions; $16 million in annual tax revenue, in addition to property taxes for Arlington Heights.

The project will also generate $51.3 million in tax revenue for the state of Illinois and $9.8 million for Cook County, according to the economic impact study done for the Bears.

“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 wrote.

The letter goes on to state the Bears “remain committed to Soldier Field and will honor the terms of its lease” even if a departure earlier than the 2033 expiration date of the lease requires a cash buyout.

“While the prospect of atransit-oriented, mixed-use and entertainment district anchored by a new enclosed stadium is exciting for the Bears and the entire state, there is much more to be done before we can close on the property,” the letter states.

“We remain under contract to purchase the property, but there are conditions that must be met in order to be in a position to close. If we do close on the property, it does not guarantee we will develop it. While under contract with the seller of Arlington Park, we will not be discussing or exploring any other alternative stadium sites or opportunities, including renovations of Soldier Field.”

The letter was accompanied by a map and two conceptual drawings showing an aerial view of the broader development.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot has offered a Hail Mary, $2.2 billion plan to put a dome on Soldier Field in a desperate attempt to keep the Bears in Chicago or at least look like she tried her best to keep them if they leave.

Lightfoot said Thursday’s community meeting does nothing to change the dynamic of her efforts to keep the Bears at Soldier Field.

“As I said months ago, we were gonna make a very compelling case for them to stay in the city of Chicago, and I think that we’ve done that,” she said at a Tuesday morning news conference.

“We’re gonna continue our discussions [with the Bears]. We’re gonna continue our discussions with the league. As you know, I’m somebody who likes to plan. So, we’ve got Plan B, Plan C and others in the works as well, if the Bears decide they’re gonna abandon the city of Chicago. I hope they don’t. We’re gonna keep fighting that fight as long as we possibly can.”

A rendering released by the Chicago Bears on Tuesday shows the view from the site of a proposed stadium, looking southeast at a proposed mixed-use development on the former location of Arlington International Racecourse, with the Chicago skyline far in the distance.

Courtesy of Chicago Bears

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