'Complete gridlock': Palatine officials wary of what a suburban Bears stadium could bring

A new Chicago Bears stadium at Arlington Park would make Arlington Heights a destination for hordes of football-hungry fans.

But many of them making the journey will travel through Palatine to get there. And it could spell a rocky road ahead for the town, village leaders say.

Mayor Jim Schwantz and Village Manager Reid Ottesen discussed the opportunities, costs, risks and even chances of a Bears stadium Wednesday during the annual State of the Village address hosted by the Palatine Area Chamber of Commerce.

"I can just assure everybody in this room that this is not something we take lightly," Schwantz said. "We're not just (saying), 'Put the stadium up, we can't wait for it, it's the greatest thing ever.'"

Ottesen said the proposed $5 billion redevelopment of Arlington Park could boost existing businesses and attract new ones to the community. But the traffic it brings could clog the village's roads, tying up residents, businesses and emergency services.

"It could bring our community to complete gridlock," Ottesen said. "And our residents wouldn't be able to get where they need to go. Our police and fire would not be able to get to calls on time."

"It's going to be $1 billion that has to go into the infrastructure to (address) the road network, the water system, the sewer systems, the retention - we don't want more flooding," he said.

Ottesen said the biggest challenge would be what to do with Northwest Highway, which runs along the north side of the 326-acre racetrack property now owned by the Bears. Widening the road to handle the additional traffic could mean wiping out businesses there.

"And that's a real concern for our community," he said.

Schwantz noted that the traffic would be an issue not only on Bears game days but also for potential college basketball and football games, concerts and other events. As an example, he cited "American Idol" contestant and Mount Prospect native Lee DeWyze's 2010 concert at Arlington Park.

"The whole place was gridlocked," Schwantz said.

Schwantz said the Chicago mayoral election might revive the city's hopes of keeping the team.

"Who knows, (the Bears) might reopen discussions with whoever is elected mayor," he said.

Ottesen said he and Schwantz have had three meetings thus far with Bears management, including Chairman George McCaskey and former team President Ted Phillips. A meeting last week involved new President and CEO Kevin Warren.

"They've been very forthright, very welcoming with us," Schwantz said. "(We have) a seat at the table whenever we want it. We have George McCaskey's and Kevin Warren's cellphone numbers to get a hold of them whenever we need to."

But, "every time we have a meeting, more questions come out than answers," he added.

Ottesen said he and the village's police and fire chiefs plan to travel to several NFL stadiums to survey conditions, including traffic and surrounding development.

Schwantz said the project must not add expenses to Palatine and its residents.

"We don't want to be costing the village of Palatine or our residents any money," he said.

  Palatine Village Manager Reid Ottesen addressed the Chicago Bears' possible move to the Northwest suburbs and other issues Wednesday during the town's annual State of the Village address. Brian Hill/
  Palatine Mayor Jim Schwantz delivered his annual State of the Village address Wednesday at village hall. Brian Hill/
  Palatine Area Chamber of Commerce and community members listen to Mayor Jim Schwantz deliver his annual State of the Village address Wednesday in the council chambers. Brian Hill/
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