Chicago Bears moving forward with plan for new domed stadium on lakefront

Team had bought land in Arlington Heights for potential stadium

Tuesday, March 12, 2024
Bears to move forward with plan for lakefront domed stadium
The Chicago Bears are planning to build a lakefront domed stadium south of Solider Field and not on land in Arlington Heights.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The Chicago Bears are staying put in the city as the team said it is moving forward with a new stadium plan.

The Bears say it will boost the economy and create jobs and of course it will mean the prospect of drawing mega-events.

Bears fans are buzzing about the team's intention to build a new domed football stadium on the lakefront.

"I think it's a great idea," fan Betsy Shefner said. "You know it's great for the fans."

The build site is centered around the parking lot south of Soldier Field.

"When I think of the Bears and going to Soldier Field, I think of the stadium on the lakefront, so I'm happy that they're staying there," fan Rob Lawler said.

When Soldier Field was renovated 21 years ago, it cost $632 million. But if the Bears scrap it and build a new lakefront stadium in the parking lot next door, it will likely cost nearly four times that, with the team prepared to offer more than $2 billion in private financing.

"The Chicago Bears are proud to contribute 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," Bears president CEO Kevin Warren said. "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. We look forward to sharing more information when our plans are finalized."

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Mayor Brandon Johnson said he likes the plans he has seen so far.

"What I can say is the conversations have been very positive. I appreciate the leadership of Kevin Warren. He's done an outstanding job," Johnson said.

Johnson also released a statement, saying, "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 Chicago Bears' plans are a welcome step in that direction and a testament to Chicago's economic vitality. I look forward to subsequent talks with the Bears, State leadership and community stakeholders about how we can continue to responsibly support the aspirations of the team, its fans and all residents of the City of Chicago."

Sources said the $2 billion would come from a combination of funding from the NFL and team resources, which would keep the bears in the city.

"When an iconic team like the Chicago Bears invests $2 billion in a publicly-owned stadium, that send a message of other businesses: It it's good to invest in Chicago," said Jack Lavin with the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce.

The historic 100-year-old stadium on the lakefront has been home to the Bears for nearly half their history. But if the Bears plans become reality, Soldier Field as we know it will be gone, with only the historic colonnades remaining. The stands and field would be turned into park land, and the project could mean thousands of construction and other jobs.

"Projects like this will truly create economic stability across the city and state of Illinois," said Jaemie Neely with the Federation of Women Contractors.

The stadium sets up the potential for Chicago to host future Super Bowls and college basketball tournaments like the Final Four.

"Obviously having Super Bowl here if we have a dome then we could have every Super Bowl," fan Joseph Gallegos said.

This is a huge shift from the Bears' plan to build a new stadium in suburban Arlington Heights on land that the team now owns.

Monday morning, Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes said in a statement, "We did not receive a courtesy call from the Bears about this and have seen nothing in writing, so no comment at this time other than we know it's a long way from a done deal at either location."

The mayor of Arlington Heights said he did not get a call from the Chicago Bears about their lakefront stadium plans on Monday.

Sports finance expert Marc Ganis explained what went wrong.

"Arlington Heights had an exclusive opportunity to negotiate for the Bears, but they blew it," said President Sports Corp Ltd. Marc Ganis.

The village's chamber of commerce is hopeful the conversation isn't over yet, and that the team still sees the value in coming to the suburbs.

"They're still doing their due diligence and they're moving forward with some of their options. But we still want to be in that conversation. And I think it's time that we add a little bit more of the private stakeholders to the table and we certainly would be willing to do that. We need to step up our game and now we know what we are competing against," said Arlington Heights Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jon Ridler.

State Rep. Mark Walker, D-Arlington Heights, issued a statement saying, "From the Bears' first announcement to purchase Arlington Park, I've been open to the team's move to Arlington Heights, but reaching a fair deal for all has always been the priority. As I've said before, I trust the Bears when they say they're exploring all options in the best interest of their company. If they go forward with their lakefront plan, it's our responsibility to make the best decision for Arlington Heights, Rolling Meadows, and our neighboring communities as well. I look forward to the many interesting proposals to come on the future of Arlington Park like new business development, more affordable housing, or welcoming centers for new arrivals."

Hayes told ABC7 still in the process of clarifying where things exactly stand, but some Bears fans in the north suburb were still not thrilled with Monday's news.

"I was really wanting them to come out to the suburbs. What we have out here is great. They bought Arlington Park already. We have 300 acres to make a great place. Was looking forward to it," said fan Brad Bailey.

"It was one of those situations where I thought, 'Let's see what happens.' And sure enough," said fan Nancy Bachmann. "We have this land in Arlington Heights that's demolished now. Not looking so good. And we were really looking forward to the Bears coming here."

Others weren't as surprised.

"I think it's a smart move," said Arlington Heights resident Joe Clancy. "They've got to figure out a way to keep the tax rate down here, without tapping everybody who lives here."

Meanwhile, many fans were not sold on a move to the suburbs. The news is music to the ears of many Bears fans who want the team to remain in Chicago.

"God no," Shefner said. "Please don't. It should stay in Chicago. It's Chicago Bears. It's not the Arlington Heights Bears. It's the Chicago Bears."

The Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce said they are aware of the plan and are very supportive and they believe it sends a loud and clear message about the health and vitality of the city.

"Yeah, we just need a winning team now," Bears fan Cassie Fossier said.

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There could be some challenges from groups like the Friends of the Lakefront, who could take issue with the build site. Meanwhile, the Bears said they're looking forward to sharing more details when the plans are finalized.