'The time is right': Next Bears president wants to find everyone's 'why' for a suburban stadium

Growing up, Kevin Warren asked his mother “Why?” about almost everything.

Now, it's a question the 59-year-old new Chicago Bears president and CEO will try to answer as he begins to navigate the state and local political waters to secure public subsidies and engineer a deal for the NFL franchise's potential move to the suburbs.

“One thing I found out, especially with stadium development projects, you have to create: What's the why,” said Warren, at his introductory news conference Tuesday afternoon at Halas Hall. “And what's the why for everybody. It just can't be what's the why for the Chicago Bears, or what's the why for this group or that group. ... No matter what constituent group you put in front of me, what's the why. And the more common the why that you have, the more people will understand.”

Warren, who oversaw the decadelong planning process that resulted in the opening of a new Minnesota Vikings stadium in 2016, said he plans to delve into the specifics of the Bears' proposed $5 billion Arlington Park redevelopment project in Arlington Heights over the next six months. He officially takes the helm at Halas Hall in Lake Forest — a short drive from his Rosemont office as Big Ten Conference commissioner — in April.

But he says he's already visited the sprawling 326-acre shuttered racetrack site that the Bears have under contract. Officials said Tuesday the $197.2 million purchase is still on track to close in the first quarter of this year.

“I'm a stadium nerd,” Warren said. “When I heard about the Arlington Park opportunity, I drove out there one day on my own just to kind of look around. I always look at what are the assets on the chess board.”

“You don't get many times to have over 300 acres close to the city,” he said. “I know our focus will be to make sure that we close on the land. We just want to be very methodical to make sure that we get that process done first and see what happens next. But it is a very attractive, unique stadium site.”

On the Arlington Park project, Warren said the organization should be “methodical, detailed, and ... take the time to plan it properly.”

“I think the biggest thing that I learned was the fact that you need to plan before you start digging,” said Warren, who was the Vikings' chief operating officer until his hiring at the Big Ten in 2020. “When you build a stadium, every single thing matters. Every measure, every line, every line item.”

Outgoing Bears President and CEO Ted Phillips, who put together the deal that resulted in a $690 million renovation of Soldier Field two decades ago, said Warren's stadium building experience is an asset, as are the local business and political connections he's made over the last four years as Big Ten commissioner.

“He's been in this environment. He's been in a pressure cooker with the Big Ten, which is another benefit of him being here,” said Phillips, who has been with the organization for four decades. “He's had to deal with 14 different chancellors, 14 different athletic directors, everybody with a different agenda and idea on how to do things, and people who are highly intelligent. And he has navigated that really well and has produced results.”

Phillips, 65, will stay on after his planned Feb. 28 retirement date to help with the transition, and he said he will be a phone call away after that.

Warren said he will lean on Phillips and others in the organization to get up to speed on the stadium plan, but so far he declined to answer specifics about public financing or how long it would take the project to come together.

“One of the other many things I learned in Minnesota: You have to create a compelling story of why it makes sense. I just believe that at this point in time, where we are in our life span in the NFL and the Chicago Bears, the time is right,” Warren said. “I'm confident with the intellectual talent in this state and in this city and all the people who love the Chicago Bears, that we'll be able to come together. It's time.”

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Kevin Warren, the new president and CEO of the Chicago Bears, speaks during his introductory news conference Tuesday at Halas Hall in Lake Forest. Associated Press
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