Bears brass: Focus for long-term development 'exclusively' on Arlington Park
While saying they didn't go out of their way to seek out the Arlington Park property -- instead, they were contacted by the seller -- top Chicago Bears brass now plan to devote much of their time over the next year to sealing the deal that could one day bring their destination stadium in the suburbs to fruition.
In the short term, a committee led by team Chairman George McCaskey and President/CEO Ted Phillips will conduct the search for a new general manager and head coach, following the Monday firings of Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy.
But McCaskey said Phillips persuaded him to modify the organizational structure at Halas Hall, whereby the new football GM -- once hired -- will report directly to McCaskey and ownership, in light of Phillips' increasing responsibilities on the pending acquisition of the Arlington Park site.
Phillips, who helped secure the deal that led to $690 million in renovations at Soldier Field two decades ago, will be assisted by consultants on the Arlington Heights stadium project.
"They are both full-time initiatives, and we're adding staffing and hiring outside vendors to help us with our exploration of the Arlington Park property as a possible stadium site," McCaskey said during the Monday news conference where the GM and coach firings were announced.
The hourlong session marked the first time Bears management has spoken publicly about the potential move to the suburbs since the $197.2 million purchase and sale agreement for the 326-acre property was announced in late September, or since the Bears even announced they were a bidder on the land in June.
McCaskey, who has charged Phillips to be the point man on the stadium project, compared the current due diligence process to buying a house, or a lot to build a house.
"There's a time between when the property is under contract and closing," McCaskey said. "And during that time there are a number of things that need to be done in terms of due diligence: making sure that there's clear title to the house or lot. If it's a lot, determining whether it's a buildable lot and so forth. A lot of regulations that need to be checked out."
"Well, in a property of this size, the time between under contract and closing is vastly expanded. So there's a lot of due diligence that needs to be performed before we can close," McCaskey said.
When asked if the Bears have ruled out playing at a new stadium in downtown Chicago, McCaskey only said he's happy to engage with city and park district officials about "present operations" at Soldier Field. Such conversations took place a few weeks ago, he added.
"Our exploration of the Arlington Heights project was determined in large part by the seller," McCaskey said of racetrack owner Churchill Downs Inc. "This was just a piece of property that was put out for sale. We were contacted by an agent for them. And we saw this as an outstanding long-term proposition with high potential for the Bears."
For his part, Phillips also placed the organization's long-term interest on the Arlington Park site, but indicated the pending contract and stadium redevelopment isn't a done deal, amid financing for what would be a multibillion dollar proposition.
"The closing on the land probably is going to take the rest of this year, maybe into the first quarter of 2023," Phillips said. "And at that point in time, we'll decide whether it's financially feasible to try to develop it further. And I think what's important now is that our focus for long-term development is exclusively on that property at Arlington Park."
Phillips called it "an extremely unique" property, of which there's nothing else like in the Chicago area.
"We're excited it can be an entertainment destination with multiple facets to it that I think could really help put Arlington Heights on the map as a destination spot," he said.