Chicago Bears to present plans for Arlington Heights stadium


Taking the next step toward building a new stadium, the Chicago Bears announced an informational community meeting Thursday to discuss the potential purchase and development of Arlington International Racecourse.

Team officials said in a statement they will present conceptual plans next week for a transit-oriented, mixed entertainment district anchored by an Arlington Heights stadium, which would be one of the largest development projects in Illinois history.

The meeting is scheduled for Thursday from 7-9pm at the gym at Hersey High School, 1900 E. Thomas St. in Arlington Heights.

Anticipating a large crowd, seats will be available on a first-come, first-served basis. The parking spaces open at 5 p.m., the doors open at 5:30 p.m

The meeting is for informational purposes only. If the project goes ahead, the team stated, all required public meetings would take place later for Arlington Heights officials.

The announcement is in line with Mayor Tom Hayes’ statements that the village is likely to begin holding meetings this fall to discuss the proposal.

Last year, the team and track owner, Churchill Downs Inc., announced an agreement for the Bears to purchase the 326-acre racetrack site for $197 million, pending final reviews and approvals by both parties. The deal is expected to close in early 2023.

Any development should be approved by village officials. The mayor has welcomed the proposed move of the team from Soldier Field in Chicago and has floated the idea of ​​limited support from local taxpayers.

In response, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced a proposal to build a dome at Soldier Field and expand its capacity from 61,500, the smallest in the National Football League, to 70,000.

But the city, already in deficit and still paying for the stadium’s final renovation in 2003, has not specified how it would pay for such a costly project.

Lightfoot’s news agency has released a statement saying it has made a “compulsory case” for the Bears to remain in Chicago at a “tier one” stadium.

“The city will continue to advocate to the Bears, the NFL and the public that a revived Soldier Field makes the most economic sense,” spokeswoman Kate LeFurgy said.

Arlington Heights Mayor Hayes called the meeting an encouraging sign.

“They are increasing the speed of the project as we move forward to make it a reality,” he said. “This is an opportunity to get the first feedback from the community, so it’s a very important and exciting part of the process.”

He emphasized that this is not a village meeting and that he would not be present so as not to interfere.

A Bears spokesperson declined to comment further on the meeting.

The meeting is expected to be more about the entire development of the property as an entertainment area than about the fine details of the stadium. It’s an opportunity for the team to let the public know where the project is and encourage feedback. The team is expected to emphasize that the purchase of the property – and the ensuing development – ​​is not yet a foregone conclusion.

The Bears have called Soldier Field their home since 1971, but the team has spent most of the past 50 years discussing or suggesting playing its games elsewhere.

Wrigley Field served as the team’s original home location when it moved to Chicago in 1921 and remained there until 1970.

But the Bears were forced to find a new home after the American Football League merged with the National Football League and needed stadiums for at least 50,000 fans.

A recent poll commissioned by a self-proclaimed libertarian group found that a majority of Arlington Heights residents surveyed support bears moving from Soldier Field to their village, but oppose tax subsidies to help the team do so.

The poll published last month found that 72% of respondents approved the Bears’ proposal to build a stadium at the closed Arlington International Racecourse, but 68% opposed using taxpayers’ money to help the team.

The poll also found strong support for an ordinance banning Arlington Heights from using taxpayers’ money to help build a stadium or other “business welfare” by a margin of 55%-30%.

The poll was sponsored by Americans for Prosperity-Illinois, a group founded by the conservative billionaire Koch brothers, and surveyed 300 registered voters in the village.

The previous renovation of Soldier Field cost about $690 million, which left taxpayers on the hook for $432 million, plus hundreds of millions of interest, which they will still pay through 2032.

Afternoon briefing


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That renovation was widely seen as disappointing, leaving a substandard stadium in the colonnades of the original facility.

The Bears have by far the oldest stadium in the NFL, dating back to 1924, but it is owned and operated by the Chicago Park District. Since the team arrived in 1971, every other team in the league except the Green Bay Packers has built a new stadium.

Only since 2009 have some of the league’s major franchises built palatial facilities outside their own cities near Dallas, New York, and Los Angeles and elsewhere.

Meanwhile, public sentiment is turning against subsidizing teams worth billions of dollars. Research has generally shown that such large expenses do not pay for themselves.

Chicago Tribune’s Gregory Pratt and AD Quig contributed.

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The Valley Voice
The Valley Voice
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.


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