CHICAGO — The Bears might be talking about moving to the suburbs so they can play in a larger, fancier stadium on a $5 billion campus — but those plans don’t include a retractable roof, officials said Thursday.
The stadium that would be built at the proposed Arlington Park campus would be enclosed, but the heavy cost of a retractable roof would put that beyond the team’s reach, Bears President Ted Phillips said at a Thursday night meeting where the team’s leaders outlined possible plans for the park.
The crowd — which filled up about half the auditorium at John Hersey High School in suburban Arlington Heights — applauded at news of the enclosed roof, but they groaned when they heard it wouldn’t be retractable.
“What we’ve seen with the retractable domes is that the costs are prohibitive, that … the return isn’t there,” Phillips said. “There’s mechanical issues.”
The stadium would be part of a sprawling, 326-acre entertainment district focused on the Bears, with the team suggesting the campus could include housing, office space, a hotel, restaurants and more. They’d build the stadium and move there if they ditch Soldier Field — where Mayor Lori Lightfoot has suggested putting a dome over the existing field in a bid to keep the team.
Although the team leaders kept most details for the Arlington Heights proposal vague during Thursday’s two-hour presentation, they doubled down on their request for public funding for the venture and said they will not build a casino.
They also extensively quoted Daniel Burnham — the famed architect and city planner known for his work in Chicago, the city the team now says it could leave — when describing the scope of their own plan.
“We hope that these plans are no small plans, and they have magic in them,” architect Paul Milana said.
More than 100 eager suburban residents and Bears fans came out to listen; among them was Duke Dynek, of Mount Prospect, a 50-year season ticket holder thrilled about the potential move.
“It’s about time,” said Dynek, who arrived two hours early in a Bears-themed mask, sunglasses, shirt and shorts. “This is going to be amazing.”
The meeting came after months of back-and-forth between team leaders and the Lightfoot administration, which has pushed for the Bears to stay in the city.
In September 2021, the team signed a purchase agreement to buy the former Churchill Downs racetrack property in Arlington Heights, which would be the site of their stadium campus. But the deal has not closed as team leaders negotiate with city officials.
The Bears lease Soldier Field — which has the smallest capacity of any NFL stadium — from the Park District. It would cost the team about $84 million to break their lease as early as 2026, the Tribune has reported.
In response, Lightfoot has pitched a $2 billion redevelopment of Soldier Field to benefit the Bears and boost capacity — and has suggested Chicago will lure another team here if the Bears do leave.
But the Bears stand to benefit financially from a move to the suburbs: At Soldier Field, they have to split revenues with the Park District while paying rent; at their own complex in Arlington Heights, they’d be able to build their own revenue streams.
Negotiations are ongoing, and Lightfoot said Tuesday she hopes the team will remain in Chicago — though the city has a “Plan B” if they leave.
Bears leaders and architects with the firm Hart Howerton offered no new stadium renderings Thursday, instead describing their general vision for the property, which they said could include two- to eight-story townhomes, “parking fields” adjacent to the stadium, a sports book, a “Bears fit” workout facility, public parks, ponds for canoeing and kayaking, restaurants, a hotel and a modernized Metra station.
A traffic planner also said that the team is looking to change exits and entrances for Northwest Highway, as well as Route 53, which run north and west of the property.
Milana, continuing the Burnham theme, said a large, grassy public park and green space in the center of the development might have “echoes” of the Midway Plaisance. Phillips promised “a world-class” facility that could host Super Bowls, Final Fours and other major sporting events.
When asked if there would be tailgating, Phillips had a quick reply, saying, “Oh, yeah, baby.”
The project would cost nearly $5 billion and take up to 10 years to complete, Phillips said.
Team President George McCaskey said public dollars would be necessary to make the development a reality.
In response to questions from concerned Arlington Heights residents, McCaskey and Phillips said the team would privately fund the stadium, but they would seek public funding for the infrastructure improvements — to sewers and roads, among other things — necessary for the project. They vowed that infrastructure improvements would not lead to direct property tax increases in the suburban town.
“We have a long way to go,” McCaskey said. “We will need help. There are broad, long-term public benefits of this project.”
Team leaders said they hoped to close on the deal by the end of 2022 or early 2023. If the deal falls through, they are not exploring other sites for a new stadium, Phillips said. McCaskey said it was the Churchill Downs ownership group that came to the Bears to buy the property, not the other way around.
“There is no plan B,” Phillips said, to loud applause.
Some residents said they are hesitant about the possibility of increased taxes and traffic, but almost all were excited about the possible move.
“I live in the city now, and the worst part is getting to Soldier Field,” said Kaushal Patel, a season ticket holder and Edison Park resident.
Patel had no sentimentality about the Bears leaving Chicago.
“I think it would be different if it was Wrigley. But ever since they put the spaceship inside [Soldier Field,] it hasn’t felt the same. I love” the move, he said.
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