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Bears set out plans for enclosed stadium, entertainment district

The Chicago Bears has laid out plans for a domed stadium and multi-purpose entertainment district at the proposed site of Arlington Heights, broaching the subject of potentially seeking public funding for part of the project.

The NFL American football franchise yesterday (Tuesday) set out the vision for the site, and released the first conceptual renderings, as it prepares to host an informational community meeting on Thursday to discuss the potential purchase and possible development of Arlington Park.

In September 2021, the Bears signed an agreement for the purpose of acquiring 326 acres of property in Arlington Heights to potentially relocate there. The team remains under contract to purchase the property, but there are conditions that must be met in order to be in a position to close. 

The Bears said yesterday: “If we do close on the property, it does not guarantee we will develop it. While under contract with the seller of Arlington Park, we will not be discussing or exploring any other alternative stadium sites or opportunities, including renovations of Soldier Field. Much remains to be decided, but any decision will be made in the best interests of the Bears long-term future, our fans and the Chicagoland community.

‏‏‎“‎If the team does proceed with the purchase of the Arlington Park property, and if the Bears organisation then chooses to proceed with the development of the property, the project will be one of the largest development projects in Illinois state history.

“We envision a multi-purpose entertainment district anchored by a new, best-in-class enclosed stadium, providing Chicagoland with a new home worthy of hosting global events such as the Super Bowl, College Football Playoffs, and Final Four.

“Make no mistake, this is much more than a stadium project. Any development of Arlington Park will propose to include a multi-purpose entertainment, commercial/retail, and housing district that will provide considerable economic benefits to Cook County, the surrounding region and State of Illinois.

“The long-term project vision for the entire property is an ongoing work-in-progress, but could include: restaurants, office space, hotel, fitness centre, new parks and open spaces, and other improvements for the community to enjoy.”

The Bears have also spelled out the economic benefits of the redevelopment of Arlington Park, which includes Arlington International Racecourse. Construction of the proposed project is projected to create more than 48,000 jobs, result in $9.4bn (£8.18bn/€9.49bn) in economic impact for Chicagoland, and provide $3.9bn in labour income to workers across the region.

The completed project is expected to create more than 9,750 long-term jobs, result in $1.4bn in annual economic impact for Chicagoland and provide $601m in annual labour income to workers across Chicagoland. The Bears said it also anticipates that the development will generate $16m in annual tax revenue in addition to property taxes for Arlington Heights, $9.8m for Cook County, and $51.3m for the State of Illinois.

‎While the Bears said it will seek no public funding for direct stadium structure construction, it added that given the “broad, long-term public benefits” of the project, it “looks forward to partnering with the various governmental bodies” to secure additional funding and assistance needed to support the feasibility of the remainder of the development.

In March, it was reported that Manica Architecture is working with the Bears on the new stadium project. Soldier Field is currently the oldest stadium in the NFL, having opened in 1924, while its 61,500-seat capacity for Bears games also makes it the smallest in the League.

The stadium underwent a $690m renovation in 2002, with the Bears calling it the franchise’s regular home since 1971. The team’s lease deal is due to run through 2033, but the Bears could break the agreement for $84m as of 2026.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot in July announced proposals for a major renovation of Soldier Field. Lightfoot put forward three options, which have been developed by Landmark Development, its president Bob Dunn and a wider team of stadium engineers, designers and financial experts.

The Bears added yesterday: “‎We are taking serious steps to evaluate the unique opportunity presented to us. The Bears remain committed to Soldier Field and will honour the terms of its lease.

“While the prospect of a transit-oriented mixed-use and entertainment district anchored by a new enclosed stadium is exciting for the Bears and the entire state, there is much work to be done before we can close on the property, and then, whether we will develop it.

“We look forward to working with key partners and stakeholders across the Chicagoland community and State of Illinois in the months ahead.”

Images: Chicago Bears