ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. — While still in the early stages of development, the Chicago Bears are moving forward with their plan to eventually leave Soldier Field and build a new stadium in the northwest suburbs of Chicago on the 326-acre Arlington Park site.
“Right now, we don’t have a Plan B,” Bears president and CEO Ted Phillips said Thursday. “Our singular focus is on this property.”
The Bears hosted a two-hour community meeting for Arlington Heights-area residents on Thursday to discuss their conceptual plans for developing the former site of the Arlington International Racecourse, which closed last year after hosting thoroughbred racing for 94 years. The team has been under contract on the property since September 2021, when it signed a $197.2 million purchase and sale agreement.
A potential stadium has not yet been designed, according to Phillips, but will be an “enclosed” structure with an expected capacity that exceeds Soldier Field’s league-low 61,500 seats.
“We’re not anticipating a retractable dome,” Phillips said. “Often times what we’ve seen with retractable domes is [that] the costs are prohibitive, the return isn’t there, there’s mechanical issues.”
Phillips added: “Hopefully it can attract major events like the Super Bowl, College Football Playoff, concerts, the Final Four. We don’t have a facility like that now.”
Phillips was met with applause when he stated that the team would not be discussing any alternative sites to build a stadium, nor would it be considering renovations of Soldier Field.
Bears chairman George McCaskey told a half-full gymnasium at John Hersey High School that the entire project could take more than 10 years to complete and that a new stadium would make up less than half of the development, which would include restaurants, retail and office space, housing, a hotel, fitness center, new parks, ponds and open areas.
McCaskey said the Bears will “seek no public funding for direct stadium structure construction” but would need assistance in order to complete the rest of the multibillion-dollar project.
“My family and I are not real estate developers,” McCaskey said. “We are not financiers. We are privileged to own a beloved football team that is an important community asset. We take that responsibility to heart. It is our life’s passion. We do recognize what might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity .”
McCaskey said the Bears were not actively looking for a property to develop when Arlington Park became available. Churchill Downs Inc., which owned the land, reached out to the Bears to gauge the team’s interest. McCaskey said the organization, under his grandfather George Halas’ leadership, tried previously to purchase the land in the 1970s.
Earlier this week, the Bears penned an open letter discussing some of the obligations they would have to fulfill in order to develop the property, which the organization hopes to close on in early 2023.