Arlington Heights, Ill. — While still in the early stages of development, the Chicago Bears are moving forward with their plans to eventually abandon Soldier Field and build a new stadium in Chicago’s northwest suburbs on the 326-acre Arlington Park site.
“Right now, we don’t have a Plan B,” Bears president and CEO Ted Phillips said Thursday. “Our sole focus is on this property.”
The Bears hosted a two-hour community meeting for Arlington Heights-area residents on Thursday to discuss their conceptual plans to develop the former site of Arlington International Racecourse, which last year was fully completed for 94 years. After hosting the racing from The team has been under contract on the property since September 2021, when it signed a $197.2 million buy and sell agreement.
According to Phillips, a potential stadium has yet to be designed, but it will be an “enclosed” structure with an expected capacity that exceeds Soldier Field’s league-less 61,500 seats.
“We are not expecting a retractable dome,” Phillips said. “Often what we’ve seen is with retractable domes [that] The cost is prohibitive, there is no return, there are mechanical issues.”
Phillips said: “Hopefully it can attract major events like the Super Bowl, college football playoffs, concerts, Final Four. We don’t have that kind of facility right now.”
Phillips was met with thunderous applause when he said that the team would not discuss any alternative sites to build the stadium, nor consider the renovation of Soldier Field.
Bears president George McCaskey told a half-timbered gymnasium at John Hersey High School that the entire project could take more than 10 years to complete and that a new stadium would be less than half of the development, including restaurants, retail and office will be involved. Space, housing, a hotel, fitness center, new parks, ponds and open areas.
“My family and I are not real estate developers,” McCaskey said. “We are not financiers. We own a lovely football team that is an important community asset. We take that responsibility to heart. It is the passion of our lives. We recognize what can be a once in a lifetime opportunity could.”
McCaskey said the Bears “will not directly ask for any public funding for stadium structure construction” but will need assistance to complete the remaining multi-billion dollar project. According to McCaskey, the necessary infrastructure, like roads and sewers, would require the help of taxpayers or “would not be able to proceed” with the project.
In fielding questions from attendees, Phillips clarified that no buildings on the Arlington Park site would be built with public funds.
“We are not asking for a property tax increase in Arlington Heights to fund stadium construction,” McCaskey said. “It is not part of us to say that property taxes will not increase for Arlington Heights residents, but it may be for reasons that have nothing to do with this construction.”
McCaskey said the Bears were not looking for an actively developing property when Arlington Park became available. Churchill Downs Inc., which owned the land, reached out to the Bears to assess the team’s interest. McCaskey said the organization, led by his grandfather George Halas, first tried to buy land in the 1970s.
Earlier this week, Bears wrote an open letter discussing certain obligations to develop the asset, which the organization expects to close in early 2023.