Chicago Bears

Chicago Bears stadium news: What we know so far about the team's new plans

Where will the new stadium be built and what will happen to Arlington Park or Soldier Field?


After months of questions, speculation and discussions, the Chicago Bears solidified a new focus for their future stadium plans -- and it's neither Arlington Heights nor Soldier Field.

While nothing appears to be set in stone just yet, it marks the most concrete stance the team has taken in months.

So where will the new stadium be built and what will happen to Arlington Park or Soldier Field?

Here's what we know so far:

Bears announce commitment to building in Chicago

The Bears confirmed Monday they shifted focus to a new stadium in the city.

A source familiar with the plan told NBC Chicago the new priority will be a publicly-owned domed stadium near Soldier Field. The Bears plan to invest more than $2 billion of private funding into the project.

Bears President and CEO Kevin Warren confirmed the team's new intent to stay in Chicago in a statement, saying the team is "committed to contributing over $2 billion to build a stadium and improve open spaces for all families, fans and the general public to enjoy in the City of Chicago."

"The future stadium of the Chicago Bears will bring a transformative opportunity to our region -- boosting the economy, creating jobs, facilitating mega events and generating millions in tax revenue," Warren continued. "We look forward to sharing more information when our plans are finalized."

Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson also released a statement about the Bears' new plan.

"I have said all along that meaningful private investment and a strong emphasis on public benefit are my requirements for public-private partnerships in our city," the statement reads in part. "The Chicago Bears plans are a welcome step in that direction and a testament to Chicago’s economic vitality."

The Chicago Bears’ push to build a new stadium has shifted focus to a publicly-owned domed stadium on Museum Campus, near Soldier Field on the city’s lakefront, according to a source familiar with the plan.

Where would the new Chicago stadium be built?

It's possible their new home may not be far at all.

A source told NBC Chicago that the new stadium will be located on the Museum Campus, but that detail hasn't been officially confirmed by the Bears.

Crain's Chicago Business reported in early February that multiple sources in government and close to the Bears said that talks of building in downtown Chicago were a sincere goal. Crains' Greg Hinz said the Bears will look to construct a new state-of-the-art domed stadium in the parking lot south of their current home of Soldier Field, adding in the Feb. 2 article that plans could go public "soon."

The Chicago Bears’ potential move back to the city prompts mixed reactions, with concerns about taxpayer burdens and impacts on landmarks like Soldier Field.

What are the potential hiccups in Chicago?

As part of the Bears' plan, the new stadium build would also increase open space in the area by 20%, a source said.

The open space would include plazas, paths, landscaped areas, lakefront access and more. That effort -- creating more public spaces in the redevelopment of the area -- appears aimed at placating preservation group Friends of the Parks, which successfully sued to prevent George Lucas from building a museum along the lakefront and has previously voiced opposition to the team's construction of any new stadium project on Museum Campus.

Friends of the Parks did not immediately responds to requests for comment on the announcement.

It's also not yet clear what the total cost of the development may be, or from where the rest of the funding for the project will come. The shift in focus comes shortly after Illinois lawmakers instructed the Bears and the Chicago White Sox -- also seeking public dollars for a new stadium -- to work together to come up with one proposal for state funding.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker's office said Monday that he has not yet been briefed on the Bears' plan, but late last month the governor cast doubt on the appetite for much public funding for either stadium.

"Stadium projects around the country have occurred with public dollars, fewer and fewer over the years and there's a reason for that," Pritzker said when asked about the teams' efforts, "that the return on investment for taxpayers has to be proven now before we would actually move forward. I have not seen proof that this is a good deal for the taxpayers of the state of Illinois, but they have not presented that case yet."

Complicating the ask for public funding is the money still owed on both teams' stadiums. The Illinois Sport Facilities Authority, which issued bonds for the construction of both stadiums, owes $589 million on the 2002 renovation of Soldier Field and $50 million on Guaranteed Rate, which opened in 1991. Those bonds are paid in part through the state's 2% hotel tax, but if those revenues can’t make the multi-million dollar payments, Chicago’s share of the state income tax picks up the shortfall. Guaranteed Rate’s bonds are slated to be paid off in 2029, while the Soldier Field deal runs through 2032.

What happens to Arlington Heights?

The short answer is that we don’t know yet, but it calls into question whether the former site of the Arlington Park racetrack remains in the Bears' plans at all.

While much still remains to be seen about the Chicago stadium plans, the Bears do still own the Arlington Heights property. They pay more than $6 million a year to play at Soldier Field, according to their lease, which runs through the end of the 2033 season.

If the Bears go through with their plan to build a stadium in the city it would stand to reason that the team would sell their property in Arlington Heights.

Why did the Bears shift from Arlington Heights?

The announcement represents an enormous pivot for the team. The Bears bought Arlington Park last year for nearly $200 million and began demolishing buildings on site shortly thereafter. The Bears said many times after purchasing the land that they needed property tax “certainty” before developing the land, and that the purchase did not guarantee that they would develop the land. For months it was assumed that was just cautious talk from the team, and that Arlington Park would be the obvious choice for the team’s next home. After all, they owned the land. But they hit an obstacle with the property taxes in the form of legal negotiations with the local school districts about the value of the site.

Initially, the Bears argued the property should be appraised at $60 million, while the school districts argued it was worth $160 million. The Bears and school districts were unable to bridge that $100 million gap, so the decision went to the Cook County Board of Review. Last month, the Board of Review set the value at nearly $125 million and ruled that the property should be taxed at the 25% rate for a commercial property, not the 10% rate for vacant land. Officials said they decided on the 25% rate since buildings remained on site through December.

Now the Bears can either appeal the decision to the Property Tax Appeal Board, or file a suit in the Cook County circuit court. Each option would likely be a long process, so still no final “certainty” on the property tax for some time.

The property tax dispute was one factor in putting a stadium in Chicago back on the table. Another was last year's election of Mayor Brandon Johnson, who publicly stated he was interested in keeping the Bears in the city.

He and Warren met shortly after Johnson was sworn into office, promising a "regular dialogue" as they continued to negotiate.

While Johnson's predecessor Mayor Lori Lightfoot also expressed interest in keeping the Bears in Chicago, emails obtained by NBC 5 Investigates showed an acrimonious relationship between the team and Chicago Park District officials in her administration. Much of the frustration stemmed from the city's refusal to consider a sportsbook at Soldier Field, among other disputes.

Beyond that, a source familiar with the Bears' plan cited a poll showing 66% of Chicago residents in support of a Museum Campus stadium over the team moving to the city's suburbs.

What does Arlington Heights say?

Arlington Heights said Monday the team's "continued interest in Arlington Park has not changed," despite the news.

"The possibility that the Chicago Bears could find a different location has remained an option since day one and this project has never been considered a 'done deal' in Arlington Heights," the village said in a statement. "The ultimate outcome of their current discussions with the City of Chicago is unknown. What the Village knows is that the Arlington Park property provides the Chicago Bears with the unique potential to own and build a multi-use development on 326 acres, in a key location that is easily accessible by public transportation, and is centrally located for visitors and season ticket holders. The Village remains committed to ensuring that any development of the former Arlington Park site, which is unmatched in all of northern Illinois, will provide broad benefits to our community and will create a new regional destination befitting the great legacy of the property. Village leaders will not approve any plan that does not meet these expectations."

Arlington Heights said it plans to continue to work with the team and area school districts, and while it is "disappointed" the two groups "have yet to resolve short-term property tax differences," the village noted negotiations have brought the to parties close to an agreement.

“We have all experienced the many twists and turns that this project has taken over the past three years and we find ourselves in a very similar situation today. The Village’s focus remains on finding a path forward to a successful redevelopment of the former Arlington Park site. The property remains a major asset to the community and region, and it has tremendous potential,” Mayor Tom Hayes said in a statement. “The Village has always acted in good faith and partnership with the Chicago Bears and the School Districts throughout this discussion, while protecting our community’s interests, and we will continue to do so as the process moves ahead.”

What about the Chicago Fire?

The Chicago Fire currently play at Soldier Field as well, so what does the Bears' decision mean for them?

“The Fire love playing at the historic Soldier Field and are committed to playing in Chicagoland for decades to come," a spokesperson told NBC Chicago in a statement Monday. "However, while we have no imminent plans, the Club is paying close attention to the rapidly evolving stadium landscape here in Chicago, as it’s obviously no secret the impact a new venue can have for a team, so we’re keeping an open mind about all available options.” 

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