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Sunday, April 21, 2024
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Bears to Stay in City of Chicago, but Questions Remain

  • The NFL team ends its flirtations with moving to the suburbs.
  • The project still carries lots of questions about financing, design, and the team’s Arlington Heights land.

The Bears’ long and winding tour of potential stadium sites across the Chicagoland region is coming to an end. 

The NFL team confirmed Monday it intends to remain in the city of Chicago, and it is focusing on a lakefront site in downtown Chicago that is currently a parking lot for the adjacent Soldier Field. The latest development in the saga largely confirms previous reports detailing the Bears’ rising interest in that parking lot site. 

The team’s intent to stay in the city, after numerous prior flirtations with moving to the suburbs, also arrives amid a potential “financing partnership” with the White Sox in which both teams would take a more collaborative approach to help ensure their respective efforts to build new stadiums get done. There is not a finalized plan for how to pay for the new facility, but the Bears have pledged $2 billion toward the effort.

“The future stadium of the Chicago Bears will bring a transformative opportunity to our region—boosting the economy, creating jobs, facilitating mega events, and generating millions in tax revenue,” Bears president Kevin Warren said. “We look forward to sharing more information when our plans are finalized.”

Big Interest 

The Bears’ stadium saga remains one of the most closely watched issues across the NFL—as well as the rest of the sports industry. Despite being the country’s third-largest media market, Chicago, for years, has been shut out of hosting major events such as the Super Bowl and Final Four, as it does not have a large-scale domed stadium. The team’s project aims to rectify that, and a prior version of its stadium plan centered on a $5 billion project that includes a domed venue and a mixed-use development.

Over the past year, the Bears have either considered or received inbound interest from the city of Chicago, as well as the suburban locales of Arlington Heights, Aurora, Naperville, Richton Park, Waukegan, and Country Club Hills. That far-flung search, however, now appears poised to end with the shortest possible move for the Bears.

About That $197 Million Purchase …

The latest turn, however, also raises the question of what the Bears will do with the former Arlington International Racecourse property it purchased in early 2023 for $197 million. A tax dispute helped derail original plans to build a stadium there, but if the team were to resell all or part of the property, that money could be funneled toward the new downtown stadium.

The Soldier Field parking lot site, meanwhile, has a prior history of thwarted development. In 2016, Star Wars creator George Lucas planned to house a significant art and movie memorabilia collection on the grounds, but he ultimately dropped that plan amid local opposition. To that end, it remains to be seen how extensive the team’s additional development around the stadium will be.

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