'Due diligence': Naperville mayor defends meeting with Bears about stadium possibilities

Saying the city would apply "a robust public input and review process" to any proposal, Naperville Mayor Scott Wehrli defended his meeting last week with Chicago Bears President Kevin Warren to discuss the possibility that the team would build a new NFL stadium in Naperville rather than Arlington Heights.

At Tuesday's city council meeting, Wehrli spoke publicly for the first time about Friday's sit-down with the new Bears president. Wehrli said representatives from the Naperville Development Partnership, city staff members and a city council representative also participated.

Responding to criticism from segments of the community and at least one city council member about his pursuit of a meeting through a letter to Warren, Wehrli stressed "these conversations are just that. They're conversations."

"No development proposal was submitted to the city," Wehrli said. "No incentives were discussed, requested or offered by either party in these meetings. No decisions have been made by anyone at city hall. We will follow our established procedures if an idea evolves into an official development proposal."

The meeting between Wehrli and Warren happened despite the Bears' purchase of the 326 acres at Arlington Park on the western edge of Arlington Heights for $197.2 million. The deal to buy the shuttered racetrack closed in February.

On Friday, the Bears released a statement saying the Arlington Heights project is "at risk" and that the team is now looking at stadium opportunities other than Arlington Park. Part of the reason, the statement read, is continuing disagreements over potential property tax assessments.

In social media posts, Naperville Councilman Ian Holzhauer criticized the mayor for not consulting with other council members before sending the letter to Warren.

"I had no part in the Bears stadium letter even though it purported to be 'on behalf of the city of Naperville,'" Holzhauer wrote. "Naperville does not have a strong mayor form of government as do cities like Chicago, Detroit or Los Angeles. Ordinarily nine council members would listen to your input before issuing a statement on your behalf."

Councilman Josh McBroom defended the mayor on social media, praising Wehrli's "business acumen" and advising patience with the process.

"Nothing remotely serious has occurred, and could not without council input anyway," McBroom wrote.

At Tuesday's city council meeting, Wehrli noted the many layers of required review if a potential proposal ever merits serious consideration.

"Our city applies a robust public input and review process, including numerous opportunities for community input, review by relevant boards and commissions, and ultimately a very public process before the city council," Wehrli said. "Exploring new ideas, engaging in discussions and doing our due diligence with potential investors is in the best interest of our community."

  For the first time, Naperville City Council members on Tuesday heard Mayor Scott Wehrli talk about his meeting last week with Chicago Bears President Kevin Warren regarding the possibility of building a new stadium in Naperville. Kevin Schmit/
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