Bears Insider

Bears' stadium audible first deal-making move by Warren

Leverage is the phrase of the day with the Bears and Arlington Heights

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The Bears hired Kevin Warren as president and CEO for many reasons, but it's no secret his primary objective is building the new stadium.

When Warren was hired to replace Ted Phillips in January, he said he would need about six months to get under the hood of the Bears' Arlington Heights plan.

"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. "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."

Warren officially started as president in April, but there's no question his research into the Bears' stadium plans began the second he put pen to paper.

His first real move in "finding the why" occurred Friday when the Bears announced that Arlington Heights was no longer their "singular focus" for a new stadium.

“The Chicago Bears goal of building the largest single development project in Illinois history led by billions of dollars in private capital investment, and the jobs and economic benefits generated, is at risk in Arlington Heights,” the team’s statement said. “The stadium-based project remains broadly popular in Arlington Heights, Chicagoland and the state. However, the property’s original assessment at five times the 2021 tax value, and the recent settlement with Churchill Downs for 2022 being three times higher, fails to reflect the property is not operational and not commercially viable in its current state. We will continue the ongoing demolition activity and work toward a path forward in Arlington Heights, but it is no longer our singular focus. It is our responsibility to listen to other municipalities in Chicagoland about potential locations that can deliver on this transformational opportunity for our fans, our club and the State of Illinois.”

The Bears met with officials from Naperville on Friday as they started to expand their search for the franchise's next home.

Look up "leverage play" in the dictionary, and you'll see a picture of Warren and Bears chairman George McCaskey sitting down with the fine folks from Naperville while hoping to get a word from the tax assessor that there is a deal to be made with the Arlington Heights property.

Warren undoubtedly got the e-mail from Naperville's mayor and jumped at the chance to try to play hardball retroactively. It's not his fault the Bears had already closed on the property basically by the time he was hired. The proper way to do business is to leverage the municipalities before signing the deal.

The Bears did things backward, so Warren is now tasked with doing things the hard way.

The new stadium -- be it in Arlington Heights or elsewhere -- will be either the first or second line on Warren's Bears obituary.

"Kevin said it was built on time and under budget. So that would be right up there," McCaskey said in January when asked about Warren's experience with building US Bank Stadium in Minnesota.

Coming in under budget and the six-fold spike in the triennial assessment of the Arlington Racecourse property has now put Warren and the Bears on this path to make the "why" clear for Arlington Park.

"Once they closed on the property, then they did have an opportunity to talk to other potential suitors, including the city of Chicago," Arlington Heights mayor Thomas Hayes told NBC Chicago in an interview Friday moments after the team released an announcement. "Everyone is looking out for their best interests."

The Bears closed on the purchase of the 326-acre property at Arlington Racecourse in February, paying $197.2 million for the property. The previous assessed value for the property was $33 million, but Cook Country reassessed the value at $197 million, which could lead to a massive spike in property taxes.

That's now the center of the Bears' dalliance with other municipalities.

However, after all the politics and saber-rattling have finished, the Bears and Arlington Heights will both "find the why."

"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.

"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 will be hard-pressed to find another 300-acre plot of land to house a multi-purpose entertainment district. That fully finished product would generate an influx of revenue for Arlington Heights.

Getting NFL stadiums built is all about deal-making. Warren reshaped the Big Ten, bringing in UCLA and USC while orchestrating a $7 billion TV deal.

The Bears hired him because he's a deal-maker. Now that he has been under the hood, the floor is Kevin Warren's to find the why and make the deal.

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