Bears bought Arlington Park, what's next?


The Bears are one step closer to moving to Arlington Heights. And it’s a big step. On Wednesday, the team announced they closed on their deal to purchase Arlington Park, meaning they officially own the former race track.

The Bears maintain they’re still determining whether or not to develop the land, but characterized the closing as an “important next step” for the organization. There are still a few hurdles to clear that would help the team develop the property immensely, including the fate of a bill introduced in the Illinois legislature that would help fund development of the property. The Bears have previously cited “property tax certainty” and infrastructure funding as two big assurances they need before developing the land, and that bill would at least address the property taxes.

The Bears have said they’d be willing to pay for the development of a stadium themselves, but the Bears development plans for Arlington Park include a lot more than just a stadium. They envision building a large entertainment district on the property that would include restaurants, bars, retail, public spaces like parks and even residential areas. The team said they’d look for public funding for all of that development.

“For the development to move forward, and for this effort to be financially feasible, a public-private partnership addressing predictable taxes and necessary infrastructure funding for public uses is essential,” the Bears said in an open letter.

Recently, Governor J.B. Pritzker made comments pushing back on the idea, saying he doesn’t believe “the public has an obligation to fund, in this major way, a private business."

Then there’s the matter of transforming the area around Arlington Park. The Bears plan to improve and change the roads around Arlington Park to lessen the traffic burden for locals who live in the area. That includes building new exits and onramps, changing traffic patterns and making improvements to the existing Metra stop at Arlington Park.

The city of Chicago has released renderings of improvements to Soldier Field in hopes of convincing the Bears to stay at Soldier Field, however the Bears have said their sole focus is the Arlington Park project. They will not consider other options, including Soldier Field renovations.

The Bears currently have a lease at Soldier Field through the 2033 season and the team would have to pay the city of Chicago to break that lease, but the price would be a nominal sum compared to the nearly $200 million they paid to simply purchase the Arlington Park property.

It will probably take time before the Bears break ground at Arlington Park. New Bears president/CEO Kevin Warren has experience with stadium projects like this, since he oversaw the construction of U.S. Bank Stadium as COO of the Vikings, and Warren preached patience when discussing the Bears project in January.

“The key of it is to plan,” Warren said. “The worst thing you can do is just start swinging hammers.”

We will update this story with more details as they become available.

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