The Chicago Bears NFL franchise has revealed that Arlington International Racecourse is no longer its singular focus for a potential new stadium, with talks being held with officials in the neighbouring city of Naperville.
The Bears last week commenced demolition work on the Arlington Heights site, although village Mayor Thomas Hayes warned at the time that a number of hurdles still needed to be cleared before the stadium project can get off the ground.
It has now emerged that Naperville Mayor Scott Wehrli met with Bears representatives on Friday to discuss the prospect of the team building a stadium in the city, which is around 30 miles west of Chicago.
The Chicago Sun-Times newspaper has reported that Wehrli sent the Bears a letter on May 24, asking the team to “discuss available properties” in Naperville. The meeting took place on Friday and Bears spokesman Scott Hagel has confirmed that the team is open to suggestions regarding a potential new stadium site, with the Arlington Heights project “at risk” following a property assessment.
In a statement reported by the Sun-Times, Hagel said: “We will continue the ongoing demolition activity and work toward a path forward in Arlington Heights, but it is no longer our singular focus. It is our responsibility to listen to other municipalities in Chicagoland about potential locations that can deliver on this transformational opportunity for our fans, our club and the State of Illinois.”
No specific details regarding the location of a potential stadium in Naperville have been outlined.
The Touchdown Arlington group said that the village’s potential loss of the Bears stadium site would be “devastating and unforgivable” for the community.
The Bears signed a purchase agreement for the site in September 2021 and stressed that finalising the $197.2m (£159m/€184.4m) deal did not guarantee the land would be developed, only that it marked an “important next step” in the team’s ongoing evaluation of the project.
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. Landmark Development, which is working with the City on a proposed revamp of Soldier Field, in January released more details of its domed vision for the stadium as part of plans to keep the Bears at the venue.