Bears Insider

Bears' Naperville stadium flirtation is long road to same destination

The story of the NFL tells us we know how this story will end

NBC Universal, Inc.

The Bears' flirtation with Naperville last Friday made all the headlines and captured the city's attention. That was surely the intended effect new president and CEO Kevin Warren had in mind when he agreed to meet with the municipality and released the statement that Arlington Heights was no longer the "singular focus" for the Bears' new stadium pursuit.

The Bears will hope to get the same effect, if not multiplied, should they meet with new Chicago mayor Brandon Johnson about finding a way to stay in the city.

That's all well and good. The Bears' search for leverage has many paths, but a sole goal: To bend Arlington Heights and the surrounding municipalities to their will.

The Bears purchased the Arlington Racecourse for $197.2 million before resolving the tax issue. When the six-fold assessment came from the Cook County tax assessor, the Bears balked and started searching around for ways to get what they want.

That's the way of the world. It's especially the way things are done in America, where the wealthy can often use power, influence, and every maneuver at their disposal to get what they want.

It's the Bears' right to try and get a better tax deal, especially with Arlington Racecourse not commercially viable. Churchill Downs agreed to lessen their final tax payment for the course. The Bears feel they deserve the same opportunity to pay what they deem fair.

All this political saber-rattling is an expected part of the NFL stadium-building process. Some of it should be done before you put pen to paper on a $197.2 million purchase, but either way, this was always going to be part of the deal.

The Bears hired Warren because of his experience getting U.S. Bank Stadium built in Minnesota and reshaping the Big Ten. He has experience creating movement where others saw stagnation. He understands how to conjure pressure -- a force to create his desired change -- where it previously did not exist.

“One thing I found out, especially with stadium development projects, you have to create what’s the why?" Warren said during his introductory press conference in January. "And what’s the why for everyone? It can’t just be, what’s the why for the Chicago Bears, or what’s the why for this group or that group? One of the things I’ll really start thinking is, what’s the why? No matter what constituent group you put in front of me, what’s the why? The more common the why that you have, the more people will understand.

"With stadium development projects, and one of the many things I learned in Minnesota, is you have to create a compelling story of why it makes sense. I just believe at this point in time, where we are in our lifespan in the NFL of the Chicago Bears, that the time is right."

"Finding the why," in this sense, might as well be code for understanding the leverage and finding a way to create more on your side.

Later in the press conference, Warren fully illustrated the why for the Bears as it pertains to Arlington Heights.

 "I always look at what are the assets on the chessboard," Warren said. "And the unique thing about Arlington is it has some different unique factors. One is the space. You don't get many times to have over 300 acres close to the city. So it's some unique aspects. I know our focus will be on making sure that we close on the land. And again, like I said early on, be very methodical to make sure that we get that process done first and see what happens next. But it is a very attractive, unique stadium site."

The Bears can talk to Naperville, Chicago, and a host of other municipalities, but the chance of them finding another plot of land with the size to house a multi-use development that is also close to the highway and public transit are slim to none.

Warren knows the Bears' cards are fully on the table. So he did his best to reshuffle the deck.

Arlington Heights, Palatine, and Rolling Meadows don't need the Bears. Those suburbs will do just fine without McCaskey Inc. setting up shop. But don't think the politicians there don't want the Bears. They understand the economic value such a can bring. Being "The Home of the Chicago Bears" isn't nothing.

Warrens knows that. So he set out to create more leverage, enough to unstick what is currently an immobile process.

A letter from the mayor of Naperville, combined with the tax assessment from Cook County, gave Warren the opening to reverse the Bears' stance that Arlington Heights was their "sole focus" for the new stadium.

Now he has to do his best to convince everyone that the Bears would be OK not developing Arlington Racecourse and building a different stadium elsewhere if they can't come to a tax agreement.

That might be a hard pill to force down the throat of Arlington Heights.

But to quote Don Draper: "That's what the money is for."

The Bears brought Warren on board to get this done. To dot the I's, cross the T's, put shovel in ground, and book the Bears a one-way ticket from Soldier Field to Arlington Heights.

Ultimately, all of this posturing, flexing, saber-rattling, and dancing is likely much ado about nothing.

The sides will find a middle ground on the taxes. One that likely will favor the Bears. That's the story of America, capitalism, and the NFL.

More often than not, the rich and powerful get what they want.

What Warren and the Bears want is Arlington Heights, not Naperville.

Click here to follow the Under Center Podcast.

Contact Us