‘A different philosophy’: Bears’ original goal to own stadium shifts with latest public-private plans

New Chicago Bears President and CEO Kevin Warren’s stated desire to build a publicly owned stadium on the Chicago lakefront marks an organizational shift in philosophy from what then-President Ted Phillips and Chairman George McCaskey told Arlington Heights village officials three years ago, Mayor Tom Hayes said Thursday.

Those initial meetings in 2021 came after the Bears submitted a bid to purchase the 326-acre Arlington Park racetrack.

The team considered breaking its lease at the Chicago Park District-owned Soldier Field in favor of a suburban stadium of its own with adjoining mixed-use district — full of restaurants, stores, a hotel, a performance venue, a fitness center and other amenities — that would provide the NFL franchise with ancillary revenue.

Now Warren, who took the helm of the Bears organization a year ago after Phillips’ retirement, is touting what a public-private partnership — through the construction of a new $3.2 billion domed stadium on Soldier Field’s south parking lot — could mean for the Bears and city of Chicago.

“It’s a different philosophy,” said Hayes, who watched the news conference about the team’s latest stadium plans online Wednesday. “If that's where the leadership of the Bears wants to go, then there’s nothing we can do about that.”

  Chicago Bears President and CEO Kevin Warren, joined by Bears Chairman George McCaskey and Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson, announced plans on Wednesday for a new publicly owned stadium on the Chicago lakefront. Christopher Placek/

But, Hayes added, if the club’s initial goal of owning and controlling their own product is paramount, “then Arlington Heights provides everything they’re looking for. Except the lakefront.”

In a round of media interviews Thursday, the Northwest suburban mayor was touting a Bears stadium at Arlington Park as a plan B if Warren’s pitch to legislators for lakefront stadium subsidies falls through. Hayes believes the sprawling former racetrack site provides a “much more exciting opportunity for revenue growth,” and better transportation access than the latest city plans presented by the Bears.

He anticipates that the much-publicized tax dispute between the Bears and three local school districts would be “easily resolved” if the team decides to reengage with Arlington Heights, considering the difference in proposed short-term tax payments has shrunken over the course of negotiations.

“That’s really not the issue,” Hayes said. “The issue is Kevin Warren really wants to stay on the lakefront. So I don't think it’s a leverage play at all.”

  Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes, pictured at an event at Halas Hall in February, said village officials are making preparations if the Bears decide to reengage their stadium efforts in the Northwest suburbs. Paul Valade/

The proposal revealed this week calls for the park district to own the new lakefront stadium, but the Bears have pledged a little over $2 billion in private funds for the construction cost. The team would be able to sell naming rights to the stadium, and is in talks with city officials about divvying up the revenue generated there and from surrounding amenities at the Museum Campus, which could include retail, food and beverage, and even a hotel.

The Bears and the city are working on a term sheet that will outline all aspects of the operation of the publicly owned stadium and campus, according to a talking points document used by officials at the Wednesday presentation.

“We believe this is the best site for the city of Chicago, state and the Chicago Bears,” the document states. “It provides the most benefits for all parties. We will work together on an operating agreement that works for the Chicago Bears and the city to maximize its use and revenue generation.”

Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Thursday called aspects of the Bears plan — such as the team collecting revenue from other events at the stadium — "non-starters." He also continued to express skepticism about the team's proposal for public subsidies and the ability for it to get enough votes in the General Assembly.

"They’re asking to keep all of the revenue from other events that might take place at the stadium. You know, if there's a Beyoncé concert, they want all of that revenue, too, and everything else that might happen there," Pritzker said at an unrelated news conference at the University of Illinois Chicago. "We have important things we need to invest in for the future of the state, and again, stadiums in my mind don’t rank up in the top tier of those."

In Arlington Heights, Hayes said the possibility of a publicly owned stadium — not unlike Rosemont’s Allstate Arena or Hoffman Estates’ NOW Arena — was never suggested by the Bears.

“And we’ve told them that we would not be interested in owning the stadium in any way, shape or form,” Hayes said. “That just never really came up because the plan all along in Arlington Heights was for them to own the property, as they do.”

On Wednesday, Warren left open the door to coming back to Arlington Heights, but reiterated previous comments that the team’s focus for a stadium development project is on Chicago’s Museum Campus area.

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