The Chicago Bears NFL team has moved a step closer to leaving Soldier Field after finalising a deal to acquire 326 acres of property in Arlington Heights, where it is considering building a new stadium.
The Bears signed a purchase agreement for the site in September 2021 and the team has this week closed on the property. The Bears stressed that finalising the $197.2m (£163m/€184m) purchase does not guarantee the land will be developed, but said the deal marks an “important next step” in the team’s ongoing evaluation of the project.
Due diligence work is still required to determine the feasibility of building an enclosed stadium and multi-purpose entertainment district on the site. The Bears said the development would be one of the largest “mega-projects” in Midwest history if the team proceeds with the plans.
The Bears have said more than 48,000 jobs would be created with the possible construction of the development, which would generate $9.4bn in economic impact for the Chicagoland economy and provide $3.9bn in labour income to workers across the region.
More than 9,750 long-term jobs would be created once the project is completed, while $1.4bn in annual economic impact would be generated for Chicagoland and $601m in annual labour income would be provided to workers across Chicagoland.
In an open letter to fans, the Bears said: “If we elect to move forward after assessing the opportunity, the surrounding community will continue to be a foremost priority and an integral part of our planning.
“Over the past five months, we have met with local residents, small business owners, school districts, elected officials and other interested stakeholders to secure their critical input, and we will continue to have an open dialogue to ensure this potential multi-purpose development provides the greatest possible benefits to the region.
“The project would offer considerable commercial and residential real estate opportunities year-round, and serve as a regional hub for entertainment, shopping and community events that complement the established businesses and thriving community already in place.
“The overarching plan will work only if the Village of Arlington Heights, surrounding municipalities, Cook County, greater Chicagoland and the State of Illinois all receive significant economic benefits, and we are confident a mega-project like this can deliver.”
The Bears reiterated that the project will not require taxpayer funds, adding that a public-private partnership addressing predictable taxes and necessary infrastructure funding for public uses is “essential”.
Soldier Field, the Bears’ current stadium, opened in 1924 and underwent a $690m renovation in 2002. With a capacity of 61,500, it is the smallest stadium in the NFL and the Bears’ lease deal is due to run until 2033, although the team could break the agreement for $84m as of 2026.
The City of Chicago is trying to keep the Bears at Soldier Field. Last month, Landmark Development, which is working with the City on a proposed revamp of Soldier Field, released more details of its domed vision for the stadium as part of plans to keep the Bears at the venue.
In July last year, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced proposals for a major renovation of the stadium, with three options presented in collaboration with Landmark Development.
The first option proposed a fully enclosed stadium, while the second option centred on rebuilding both endzones with columns to make the stadium “dome-ready”. The third option would be to modify Soldier Field into a multi-purpose stadium better suited for football (soccer) while improving its flexibility to accommodate major concerts and a range of events.
Following yesterday’s (Wednesday’s) announcement from the Bears, a spokesperson for Mayor Lightfoot’s office said: “Today’s news about the closure of the Bears’ option in Arlington Heights has been anticipated for some time. Nonetheless, all of us die-hard Bears fans, the Mayor included, know and believe that the Chicago Bears should remain in Chicago.
“So, now that the land deal has closed, we have an even better opportunity to continue making the business case as to why the Bears should remain in Chicago and why adaptations to Soldier Field can meet and exceed all of the Bears’ future needs.
“There is simply no doubt that the economic benefits for the team of staying in a reimagined Soldier Field significantly outweigh those gained in a move to the suburbs. Due to the Bears’ legal restrictions in the pre-purchase phase, the City was unable to engage in direct negotiations with the Bears while the land was under contract. Now that the deal has been completed, we look forward to negotiating and convincing the Bears that the team’s best future remains in our beloved city of Chicago.”
The Bears have maintained that the main focus is on a new stadium and the team has shown no desire to engage on a potential redevelopment of Soldier Field. Last month, Kevin Warren, the newly-appointed president and chief executive of the Bears, reiterated this stance.
Warren previously worked at the St. Louis Rams, Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings. He was chief operating officer at the Vikings when the team opened U.S. Bank Stadium in 2016.