Bears say they need help finishing stadium complex

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. – The Chicago Bears say they will need taxpayer help if they want to build an enclosed suburban stadium that could host Super Bowl, Final Fours and college football playoff games and anchor a surrounding entertainment and residential complex.

Chairman George McCaskey said the team would not seek public funding to build the stadium itself if the Bears complete the purchase of a 326-acre site in Arlington Heights, Ill., and decide to exit. SoldierField. But they would need help completing the rest of a multi-billion dollar project.

The Bears envision restaurants, retail, offices, housing, a hotel, fitness center, new parks, ponds and open spaces. McCaskey said the project could take more than 10 years.

“My family and I are not real estate developers,” McCaskey said Thursday. “We are not financiers. We are privileged to have a beloved football team which is an important community asset. We take this responsibility to heart. It is the passion of our life. We recognize what could be a once in a lifetime opportunity.

The Bears showcased their vision during a community presentation at a high school gymnasium in Arlington Heights. They also responded to questions submitted by participants.

McCaskey said he wasn’t sure how much the stadium would cost. President and CEO Ted Phillips, who is retiring after the season, said he doesn’t envision the Bears building one with a retractable roof. He also said capacity hasn’t been determined, though it’s larger than Soldier Field, which has 61,500 seats in the NFL.

The Bears said more specific details about the stadium would be revealed later. The focus on Thursday was on developing the rest of the property. Phillips said the project would cost nearly $5 billion and serve as an “economic engine” for the county, region and state “365 days a year.” A casino is not part of the plan.

They discussed access from the nearby highway, the commuter train station, and bike and walking paths. Closing the streets on event days is also part of the vision.

“We want to be good neighbors,” McCaskey said.

But without help from taxpayers to build the necessary infrastructure such as roads and sewers needed to develop the site, he said the project “will not be able to move forward”.

“If this project is finished, what do we get? McCaskey added. “A world-class home for the Chicago Bears after over 100 years of research. What do you get? A world-class facility, parks, accommodations, restaurants, hotel and other community improvements – and the 365-day-a-year economic impact of one of the largest construction projects in Illinois history.

The Bears reached a deal to buy the site of the former Arlington International Racetrack about 30 miles northwest of Soldier Field after owner Churchill Downs contacted them to buy the land. Phillips said the deal would likely be completed late this year or early 2023. He also said the Bears would not consider renovations at Soldier Field while they are under contract for the site, prompting the cheers of the crowd in a half-full gym. .

McCaskey said the Bears, under his grandfather and franchise founder George Halas, tried to buy the land in the 1970s. Even if a deal is made this time around, he insisted on the fact that there was no guarantee that the Bears would develop the site. And if they did, they would need taxpayers’ help.

The Bears say the construction would create more than 48,000 jobs, as well as an economic impact of $9.4 billion for the region and provide $3.9 billion in income for workers. The Bears estimated the completed project would create 9,750 long-term jobs, $1.4 billion in annual economic impact, and $601 million a year in income for workers.

The Bears also said this week that the project would generate $16 million in annual tax revenue, in addition to property taxes for Arlington Heights, $9.8 million for Cook County and $51.3 million for the State of Illinois.

“It’s more than just a stadium. It’s a development rooted in the stadium,” Phillips said.

Soldier Field has been the Bears’ home since 1971. The team played at Wrigley Field from 1921 to 1970, and if a new stadium is built, the franchise would have its name on the mortgage for the first time.

If the deal fails?

“Right now we don’t have a plan B,” Phillips said.

Soldier Field, the lakeside stadium owned by the Chicago Park District, underwent a $690 million makeover in 2002 that forced the team to play home games at the University of Illinois and eventually led to the loss of its National Historic Landmark designation.

The interior was demolished, replaced by a flying saucer-like structure dominated by cantilevered glass over the famous Greek and Romanesque colonnades. The clash of styles drew criticism and the renovation reduced seating for Bears games.

“We have a long way to go,” McCaskey said.

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