(670 The Score) Days after beginning interior demolition at Arlington Park to clear the way for potential stadium construction, the Bears are now also looking elsewhere.
The Bears are exploring other locations and municipalities for a potential new stadium amid tension over tax assessments on the 326-acre property in Arlington Heights. Bears team president and CEO Kevin Warren met Friday with Naperville mayor Scott Wehrli regarding the prospect of building a stadium in the western suburb.
The Bears signed a $197.2-million purchase agreement for the Arlington Park property in September 2021. For the first time since signing that deal, the Bears are now exploring other options for a stadium.
“The Chicago Bears goal of building the largest single development project in Illinois history led by billions of dollars in private capital investment – and the jobs and economic benefits generated – is at risk in Arlington Heights,” the Bears said in a statement. “The stadium-based project remains broadly popular in Arlington Heights, Chicagoland and the state. However, the property’s original assessment at five times the 2021 tax value and the recent settlement with Churchill Downs for 2022 being three times higher fails to reflect the property is not operational and not commercially viable in its current state.
“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.”
Earlier this week, the Bears began demolition on the property that was previously Arlington International Racecourse, which included a six-story grandstand. The team officially closed on the purchase on Feb. 15 with the intention of building an enclosed state-of-the-art stadium and surrounding entertainment district. Even while continuing to take steps forward, the Bears have often stated that nothing is a done deal.
Earlier this week, a settlement was reached between Churchill Downs Inc., the previous owner of Arlington Park, and three local school districts on a $95-million value for the property. Previously, the owner paid taxes based on a value of $33 million in 2021, according to reports. A key for the Bears is “seeking property tax certainty and support for infrastructure,” the team previously said in February.
Hired as the Bears’ team president and CEO in January, Warren is leading the team’s pursuit of a new stadium deal. Warren previously spearheaded the Vikings’ stadium project. U.S. Bank Stadium opened in 2016 in Minneapolis.
“The biggest thing we can do is to make sure we’re methodical, we’re detailed and we take the time to plan it properly,” Warren said in January.
The Bears have played their home games at Soldier Field since 1971 and remain under contract with the Chicago Park District on a lease that ends in 2033. That lease can be broken as early as 2026 for a fee of $84 million.
Located approximately 35 miles due west of Chicago, Naperville is home to nearly 150,000 and is the fourth-largest city in Illinois.
Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.