Bears Stadium

Roger Goodell shares NFL's stance on Bears stadium dilemma

The NFL Commissioner admits Arlington Heights and Chicago are "exciting options" for a stadium

NBC Universal, Inc.

The Chicago Bears are working to put the pieces together on a stadium plan that's fully focused on building on the lakefront campus near Soldier Field.

The organization recently pivoted off its 326-acre Arlington Heights property, which they paid nearly $200 million to acquire in February 2023, to focus on building on the lakefront. Tax issues between the Bears and the Arlington Heights school districts recently motivated the Bears to venture back to the city.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell shared his thoughts on the Bears' stadium dilemma in Orlando at the owner's meetings. Here's what he said about where things currently stand with the Bears.

"I understand what he expects and what he hopes to be able to create in the city of Chicago," Goodell said, according to the Chicago Tribune. "Also very aware of what's being proposed in Arlington. I think they're both exciting options. But there's a long way to go with this. I don't think any of us have said, 'This is where we want to be or this is where we want to do it.' You respect the process, you go through the process and hopefully determine the best thing for our fans, for our team and overall our community."

On Tuesday, Warren discussed the momentum building toward finalizing stadium plans on the lakefront, the future of the Arlington property, and the timeline he hopes to have to get from the current point to putting a shovel in the ground.

Listen to Kevin Warren's full press conference

Lakefront focus, future of Arlington property

When asked about the Bears' pivot to the lakefront and the steam their plan is gaining, Warren noted there is still a long way to go, but he believes things are moving in the right direction.

"All of these projects are, you know, that's a great word. They require momentum. They require vision," Warren said. "They require tenacity. They require a lot of thought and planning, but they also require momentum. And I strongly believe that we're building momentum to that museum area.

"So when you have that combination of the museum, the lakefront, the beach, the architecture, and most of all, what makes Chicago special is the people. And so when you can mix that together, you do get great momentum, but it's going to require a lot of work as we proceed forward."

Warren and the Bears are happy to own the Arlington Park property, but their sights are set on downtown.

"We are the largest landowner in Arlington Heights right now. 326 acres," Warren said. "We own a beautiful piece of land. And I have great respect for Mayor Hayes and Randy Recklaus and all of the politicians there. My belief right now, these projects are incredibly difficult. And just learning the various things that I did in Minnesota, you have to be laser-focused. And right now, we're putting our energy to downtown Chicago, to the museum campus, just from an energy and resource standpoint. So we still own the land. We’re the largest landowner. We’ll stay in communication with Arlington Heights, but the focus now has to be on Chicago to give us the best opportunity for success."

Warren doesn't view the change of focus as a waste of the Bears' initial investment in the Arlington Park property.

"I think one of the things that I would say, and especially in my position, is I always have to live in a world of prioritization," Warren said. "So it’s good to own land. And at the appropriate time, we'll address what is the best use of that land. But for now, the energy and the efforts of our individuals internally, with our consultants and ownership, is focused on Chicago."

Obstacles to Lakefront Plan

The Bears must overcome several obstacles to make the domed stadium on the lakefront a reality.

The first is ensuring a healthy, long-term relationship between the team and the park district. Given their rocky history, that bridge might be harder to cross than it sounds.

"I believe in people, I believe in relationships," Warren said about the park district-team relationship. "And even since I've been able to be here and spend time with individuals at Soldier Field, individuals at the park district, individuals in the city of Chicago, I've only been welcomed. And we've had a great relationship. And I think people have seen that. They feel it. And I'm just confident that when you have a common goal that people can focus on and come together, I'm confident that we'll have a positive relationship as we go forward. And so one of the things I promised myself when I started on April 17 of last year was that I was going to understand and appreciate and embrace the history of the Chicago Bears and all the relationships. But any tension or negativity, I was not going to take it forward. 

"And so I started from scratch. And I feel that we have not only great from a business relationship, but we've developed a personal relationship. And we work together very well. So I'm pleased with the way that it's gone. And I look forward to even building stronger relationships in the future. So that's an area that’s not really a concern of mine."

As far as the thought that the lakefront project would require more than $1 billion in public infrastructure investment, Warren views the investment, whatever the number is, as good for the city of Chicago as it looks to compete against other cities in the marketplace.

"Those are things that we're working on. And one thing that I can guarantee you, I am fiscally conservative, and I am financially responsible," Warren said when asked about public funding. "So anything that we recommend, from a financial standpoint, will be very well thought out."

Warren cited a Sports Business Journal article that did not have Chicago in "Top 25 Sports Business Cities" as evidence that the investment is needed.

"But to think Chicago, you know, with this massive background, all the professional sports teams we have, the beautiful landscape, the topography, all those things involved, known for an incredible sports city. For us not to be on that list, from a business standpoint, those are the things that as a citizen of downtown Chicago and the state of Illinois, those are things from a business standpoint, concern me I look forward to the day that events like [the NFL league meetings] should and can be and will be held in downtown Chicago."

The Bears will also face resistance from Friends of the Park, a preservation group known for protecting the lakefront and parks in Chicago. Friends of the Park successfully sued to prevent George Lucas from building a museum along the lakefront and have been opposed to a new stadium on the museum campus.

Warren met with Friends of the Park last week to begin a dialogue.

"They have a really smart group of leaders, and I understand their mindset because I feel the same way. I want the lakefront to remain beautiful also," Warren said. "But one of the things that during our meeting that we told them, as we build and finalize our plans, one of the things that you're gonna see is that it's an increased proposed opportunity for additional open and green space because we're very sensitive to that. Because I love the water and I love the lake so much, the last thing we want to do is anything that takes away from it. I'd even take a step back and say, if we were able to rewind time and we had this piece of property on the museum campus, just from an urban planning standpoint, this is a unique time that we can actually help even beautify that area from a museum campus. We met with them in person last week. I know we'll have future meetings with them. I appreciate and embrace their passion for the city of Chicago, for all of our parks, and I look forward to working with them."

Timeline for a firm plan

With their focus purely on the lakefront, Warren and the Bears want to have a firm plan that checks all the boxes in place as soon as possible.

"I think over some time here in the near future, you'll see a specific plan that we're going to roll out," Warren said. "That's one of the reasons why we've been spending a large amount of time just making sure that we line everything up. ... And so it just takes time. And the biggest concern that I have right now, just with the escalation of costs, and not only in supplies, and you look at the financial markets. I mean, I watch the financial markets as much as I watch the sports markets. And just cost and infrastructure, and those things are uncertain. And so we at least have some certainty now. And we've even received information back that every year that we don't finalize the stadium, that the costs will go up anywhere between $150-200 million. So these are real dollars. And so that's one of the reasons why I am focused of having a plan, being diligent, us working together, and focusing on the importance of the time is now that we need to really pull together. And I think this also provides us a great opportunity to decide kind of who we want to be not only in Chicago but in the Chicagoland area, but the state of Illinois.

"But this is an excellent opportunity from a business standpoint, for us to be able to come together and pull together and that's one of the reasons why I would love to see the Bears work through our details to get a stadium built, and also the White Sox, and what that would do for the piece of property on the 78."

When pressed for a firm timeline, Warren gave a broad hope for things to get done in 2024.

"I really believe that this is the year that we have to pull together and collectively, across the state and across the city and the county to do everything we possibly can, in a manner that makes sense, not being reckless, but in a manner that makes sense to pull together. And then you add the being an election year on top of it. So there are a lot of issues. And there are always a lot of issues. Every one of these development projects has complications, but I'm one of those individuals that I look at it as not only hurdles, but really opportunities and just to think how special it would be to pull together."

Asked if Arlington Heights would have a chance to make another offer if the Bears got everything in line with the lakefront idea, Warren was clear about where the Bears' new stadium would be.

"The plan will be to put a shovel in the ground on the lakefront."

Next steps

Warren and the Bears hope to have renderings and a full plan together soon for everyone to view and discuss as they look to capitalize on the momentum Warren believes is building for a new stadium on the lake.

"Our plan is here in the not too distant future to be able to get together and lay out a plan, not only with renderings but video, financial plan, so we can display it to the public," Warren said. "We're working on that here and we know that from a timing standpoint, it's important for us to finish it, so we've been working diligently every day to finalize that. We're getting close to have a plan ready to take public."

Click here to follow the Under Center Podcast.

Contact Us