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Arlington Heights mayor sheds light on Bears stadium talks after announcing he won't seek re-election

The northwest Chicago suburb was once believed to be the home of the Bears' newest development after the team purchased the Arlington Park land in February 2023, but those plans abruptly halted over a property tax debate

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Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes announced this week he will not seek re-election amid questions over the future of the former Arlington Park racetrack, but it wasn't just his comments about his future that raised many eyebrows, it was his comments on the future of the Chicago Bears' new stadium.

The northwest Chicago suburb was once believed to be the home of the Bears' newest development after the team purchased the Arlington Park land in February 2023 and revealed plans for a massive complex on the grounds. But those plans abruptly halted over a property tax debate and things quickly changed.

Last the Bears left off, they stood at a stalemate with Arlington Heights school districts about property valuation. The schools see the property valued closer to the price the Bears paid for the land, handing them a higher-than-desired annual tax bill.

In April 2024, the Bears announced their plans to construct a stadium near the current Soldier Field, officially shifting their focus from Arlington Heights back to Chicago.

As it stands, the Bears are laser-focused on Chicago despite the state's reluctance to support a plan that requires public dollars, which their stadium project needs to complete.

While the team continues to maintain its focus on the Windy City, which faces its own set of funding complications, Hayes told NBC Chicago a final decision could be imminent.

"I do feel that a decision will be made by the Chicago Bears within the next 10 months in terms of where their new stadium is going to be located," Hayes said, noting that his decision not to seek re-election stands regardless of which direction the team goes. "And we certainly hope it's going to be here in the village of Arlington Heights. But I do think a decision will be made. I know Kevin Warren and others on the Bears team have indicated a desire to move forward as quickly as possible."

Hayes, who plans to spend time with his family after serving several terms as mayor, indicated talks with the team are still ongoing.

"I'm hopeful about where things are at, otherwise I wouldn't be leaving," he said. "We've got a really good team here of our own that has been working on it for about three and a half years. And so we're going to continue to work on it in the next 10 months."

It's the latest sign that talks between the suburb and the team continue despite the Bears' focus on Chicago.

Earlier this month, the team indicated it wasn't quite ready to sell the land.

After being left off Illinois' $53 billion spring legislative budget, Bears President and CEO Kevin Warren spoke to members of the Union League Club and reportedly said two things aren't currently on the table: selling Arlington Heights and selling minority stakes in the team.

"As of today, we’re the largest landowner [in Arlington Heights], and really these stadiums take so much energy, my focus has been on Chicago," Warren said.

Arlington Heights Trustee Jim Bertucci also said the Bears have yet to close the door on their 326-acre property in the suburbs.

"Arlington Heights is ready to go back to talking as soon as the Bears are ready to go back to talking," Bertucci told the Daily Herald at the time. "By no means do I think is it over. … If they want to come back and look more seriously again at Arlington Heights, I think we're going to have a better path for them than was in the past, and maybe an easier path than what’s happening in Chicago."

While Warren has remained steadfast about the organization's focus on building on Chicago's lakefront, the idea of staying in the city has sparked an entirely new set of obstacles.

Bears COO and Executive Vice President of Stadium Development Karen Murphy said in an April presentation that the team expects the entire stadium project to cost $4.7 billion: $3.2 for the stadium itself and just over $300 million for the infrastructure required to open it, plus another $1.2 billion for two other phases of development.

In March, the team confirmed it would contribute $2 billion to fund the majority of the project. A slide in the presentation clarified that the number would be closer to $2.025 billion. After that, the team would look to an NFL stadium program for a $300 million loan.

That leaves a $900 million gap for the stadium financing itself. The Bears' plan has them looking to a bond mechanism in the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority program to make up the difference. They said a 2% hotel tax that is already in place for the ISFA should be able to make up the $900 million they need from public funds.

There wasn't a clear answer as to where the team would get the $300 million for the infrastructure, however. Murphy said the team is still working with the state and looking into different funding sources.

If the team gets the public funding needed to open the stadium, they said there will be two more phases of development requiring public money: one to maximize infrastructure for the stadium and surrounding campus totaling $510 million, and another phase for "optional infrastructure to enhance the campus, improve circulation, and maximize public economic benefits," totaling $665 million.

Add up all three phases plus the IFSA funding, and it's nearly $2.4 billion in public money.

Warren has said he hoped to get something done as quickly as possible, but he's still not deterred by the obstacles.

"I understand these are big projects," Warren said. "They take time, energy and effort to come together. They're expensive. You have to have foresight, you have to have vision, you have to have wisdom. I understand this is part of the process. I strongly believe we need a new stadium. For Chicago to have never hosted a Super Bowl, a Final Four, a College Football Playoff, these mega-events. We're losing out."

It's well-documented that Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker isn't motivated to support the Bears' stadium plans with public dollars. His press secretary called the Bears' funding plan a "non-starter for the state."

"Interestingly enough, every jurisdiction has its own way of doing business," Warren said. "This is exactly what I expected to do. ... This is an election year. We have people who don't have meals to eat. We have people sleeping on the street. We have a lot of complex issues that we are dealing with."

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