Editorial: The Bears won't be enough by themselves

  • Development plans for the 326-acre Arlington Park site should include the kinds of opportunities that will benefit the region year round.

    Development plans for the 326-acre Arlington Park site should include the kinds of opportunities that will benefit the region year round. DAILY HERALD FILE PHOTO

 
The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Updated 12/29/2021 8:44 AM

To paraphrase Bogey (or Shakespeare, if you prefer), having the Chicago Bears play football in Arlington Heights in a state-of-the-art stadium, is the stuff dreams are made of.

As we all know, Churchill Downs Inc. has agreed to sell the 326 acres of Arlington International Racecourse to the Bears for $197.2 million. The Bears are among the NFL's more cherished and storied franchises. This is the kind of prestige "get" that happens once in 100 years.

 

It would be easy to focus on the excitement of it all, and it's plenty exciting. But before Arlington Heights and regional planners sign on the dotted line, there are questions they have to ask about the benefits and costs of bringing an NFL stadium to the suburbs -- questions about jobs, what costs the community will bear and whether the regional economy can offset those costs with benefits.

Even in these early days of speculation, it's already pretty clear to us the Bears won't be enough by themselves.

Ideally, sports fans will come to a game, stay overnight in a local hotel and spend a day or evening in the burbs -- visiting Schaumburg, Rosemont, the Metropolis in Arlington Heights, the new Des Plaines Theater or any of many other sites. We say ideally, because it's also very likely that most fans live within the six-county metropolitan region and will simply drive to the game then home afterward.

So, a Bears stadium in Arlington Heights should boost tourism throughout the region, but while tourists will still come to Chicago whether the Bears play there or not, the suburbs don't have that same draw for out-of-towners, despite the wonderful shopping, dining and entertainment attractions we have to offer.

No, the Bears, who would play a maximum of 10 games a season (counting a couple in the preseason), won't be enough by themselves. Ten games a year does not create a wealth of good paying jobs, nor does it spawn businesses like hotels and restaurants that also employ people.

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What our leaders need to see in their dreams is the bigger picture, and require more in this development than just a stadium. We need a facility that can be aggressively marketed in any number of ways, drawing enough ancillary business in the summer and on nongame days to create a good number of permanent jobs. More than that, the stadium needs to be busy enough, as often as possible, so it creates a habit among people.

Putting aside the prestige factor for a moment, 326 acres near the heart of Arlington Heights is an unheard-of development opportunity (Woodfield Mall, when it opened, was on 191 acres). Any development on the Arlington Park land will ultimately be judged by what it brings to the community in terms of public benefits -- in taxes, for instance, or in local employment, or even as an expression of culture or beauty.

A stadium should be judged the same way -- measuring what it brings with what it costs.

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