Regional leaders defer to Arlington Heights on Bears stadium plans
Though the impact will be regional, planning decisions, zoning approvals and other permissions needed for the potential multibillion-dollar Chicago Bears stadium and entertainment complex at Arlington Park rest with the elected leaders and village staff in Arlington Heights.
And at least for one Northwest suburban mayor whose town borders the racetrack property, that's OK.
“I think ultimately we trust the elected leadership and the staff at Arlington Heights to make the proper decisions not only for Arlington Heights, but for the region,” said Palatine Mayor Jim Schwantz, a supporter of the proposed city-to-suburbs relocation and one-time Bears linebacker in the 1990s. “I think there is a concerted effort and an understanding that this is big for the whole region, and that's not lost on Arlington Heights.”
Schwantz said he hasn't had discussions with his counterpart in Arlington Heights, Tom Hayes, about what the move would mean for their two towns, since the Sept. 29 announcement that the Bears reached a $197.2 million purchase agreement for the Arlington Park property. And Schwantz said he's also not aware of any formal talks that have taken place among other stakeholders in the Northwest suburbs.
But Schwantz expects those discussions will take place in earnest as the planning and approval process moves forward in the coming years, particularly as it relates to traffic — something that won't be contained just to Arlington Heights streets.
When asked if Palatine would consider funding upgrades to roads as part of regional infrastructure work related to a Bears redevelopment, Schwantz said the main thoroughfares aren't his village's responsibility. Euclid Road is under the jurisdiction of Cook County, and Northwest Highway is overseen by the Illinois Department of Transportation.
“There are going to be traffic studies done. There is going to be public input. There are going to be engineering studies. There are going to be environmental studies,” he said.
“I think they're going to touch everything if and when this does come to fruition, or for whatever they develop there on the property. ... There are a lot of governmental entities that are going to come together on this, for sure.”
Despite traffic concerns, Schwantz favors the Bears moving to Arlington Heights from an economic development perspective, and sees Palatine and other towns along the Union Pacific Northwest train line benefiting — especially if they have bars, restaurants and other entertainment venues.
It's a similar view shared by Heather Larson, president of Meet Chicago Northwest, the local convention and visitors bureau, who is champing at the bit to market the old racetrack property as the new Bears home.
Larson says she also wants to win over “the hearts and minds” of local residents who will be dealing with gameday traffic, by quantifying the economic impact of a potential stadium redevelopment on their communities.
And while she's already started talking to owners of hotels, restaurants and other businesses in hopes of forming a regional coalition, she is also taking her lead from those at Arlington Heights village hall.
“They're the ones driving the bus, so to speak, but we are here and we are ready with whatever kind of data and marketing they might need,” Larson said.