Bears release initial Arlington Park redevelopment plans, vow no tax dollars at least for stadium

The Chicago Bears on Tuesday released conceptual plans for their proposed redevelopment of the 326-acre Arlington Park property, as well as an open letter vowing not to ask for tax dollars at least for the stadium portion of the project.

Plans unveiled by the NFL franchise call for a transit-oriented, mixed-use and entertainment district anchored by a domed stadium on the sprawling site of the former thoroughbred racetrack in Arlington Heights.

A conceptual site plan by design firm Hart Howerton shows a stadium district on the northwest portion of the property near Route 53 and Northwest Highway, and a mixed-use district on the southeast near Euclid and Wilke roads. A Bears spokesman said renderings of the massive enclosed stadium simply are a placeholder and not an actual design.

The Chicago Bears' conceptual site plan for redevelopment of the 326-acre Arlington Park property shows a stadium district to the northwest and a mixed-use district to the southeast. Courtesy of Chicago Bears

The revelation of the initial drawings comes two days before a scheduled community meeting in Arlington Heights where the franchise's leaders will discuss the plans. It also comes nearly a year after the organization inked a preliminary $197.2 million deal to buy the site from owner Churchill Downs Inc.

The open letter from Bears officials on Tuesday said they won't seek public funding for the direct stadium structure construction, but they left open the door to seeking governmental assistance for the rest of the massive redevelopment. Officials added they look forward to working with key stakeholders in the region and state in the months ahead.

"Given the broad, long-term public benefits of this project, we look forward to partnering with the various governmental bodies to secure additional funding and assistance needed to support the feasibility of the remainder of the development," the letter reads.

The open letter to the media and on the team's social media channels came some six hours before an Arlington Heights village board meeting where a conservative political advocacy group submitted its petition for a local anti-corporate welfare ordinance. Though the ordinance doesn't mention the Bears specifically, Americans for Prosperity's proposal would prohibit the municipality from "offering or extending any financial incentive to any business or corporation to operate in the village."

Bears officials cautioned that much work remains before they can close on the property - scheduled for early 2023 - and whether they will build their suburban stadium complex there as envisioned.

An artist's rendering shows the proposed Chicago Bears redevelopment of the Arlington Park property viewed from the stadium location on the west side of the site, looking east. Courtesy of Chicago Bears

"We remain under contract to purchase the property, but there are conditions that must be met in order to be in a position to close," the letter reads. "If we do close on the property, it does not guarantee we will develop it."

But if the franchise does move forward with the purchase and redevelopment of the prime real estate in Arlington Heights, it promises to be one of the largest development projects in Illinois' history, team officials said.

The plans revealed Tuesday by the Bears call for a multipurpose entertainment district anchored by a stadium that could host the Super Bowl, college football playoffs and college basketball Final Four, with an adjoining commercial/retail and housing district. While cautioning that the long-term vision for the entire property is a work in progress, the team said the site could include restaurants, offices, a hotel, fitness center, parks and open spaces.

The team's open letter provided a series of economic projections, saying the large-scale redevelopment would provide "considerable" economic benefits to Cook County, the region and state.

For instance, construction would create more than 48,000 jobs, result in $9.4 billion in economic impact in the region, and provide $3.9 billion in labor income to workers, the team said.

The development would generate $16 million in annual tax revenue for the village, $9.8 million for the county and $51.3 million for the state, according to the Bears.

The letter didn't cite how the franchise arrived at those figures.

Officials reiterated Tuesday that while under contract with Churchill Downs, they will not be discussing or exploring any other alternative stadium sites or opportunities, including renovations at Soldier Field. But they also said they remain committed to Soldier Field and will honor the terms of its lease.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot in July formally made her pitch to keep the team on the lakefront, including by placing a dome over Soldier Field at a potential cost of $2.2 billion. The Bears have a lease at the park district-owned stadium until 2033 but can leave as soon as 2026 by paying an $84 million penalty.

The Bears letter Tuesday didn't provide a cost estimate for the Arlington Heights stadium and surrounding redevelopment, but experts have predicted it would be north of $1 billion.

The public meeting detailing the plans will be from 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday in the John Hersey High School gymnasium, 1900 E. Thomas St. The school's parking lot will open at 5 p.m. and doors will open at 5:30 p.m. Admission is first come, first served until capacity is reached.

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