Inside the X's and O's of what's needed to secure the Bears' move to Arlington Heights
Like a football coach's play-calling sheet, the Chicago Bears' multibillion-dollar stadium in the suburbs is still a conceptual vision in 2021, but much of what takes place in 2022 will determine whether they reach the goal line.
Here are the X's and O's of what's still to come before the Bears can touch down at Arlington Park:
After signing a $197.2 million purchase and sale agreement in September, the organization is now going through a due diligence period before an anticipated closing in late 2022 or early 2023. That's expected to include inspections of the sprawling 326-acre property, which team Chairman George McCaskey and President/CEO Ted Phillips toured in the fall.
Where's the money?
The purchase price of the prime real estate in Arlington Heights is only a fraction of the expected total redevelopment cost, with a stadium and surrounding entertainment complex expected to be in the billions. (By way of comparison, the Los Angeles Rams' new stadium in Inglewood, California -- on the site of a former horse racing track, no less -- cost $5.5 billion.)
So how will the McCaskey family pay for it all? They'll likely need help, whether private or public.
That could include money from well-financed partners, like businessmen Pat Ryan and Andy McKenna, who own 19.7% of the team.
It could also mean loans from the NFL, which are common in new stadium deals, and the sale of personal seat licenses to season ticket holders, which helped fund the renovation of Soldier Field two decades ago.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker has thrown cold water on the possibility of state financing for a suburban Bears stadium. And state lawmakers have filed bills that seek to prevent a Bears move or giving any money toward the effort.
Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes has said local tax dollars would be used only as "a last resort" to secure a Bears stadium deal.
"I don't know how they're going to do it," Hayes said in October. "They haven't asked us for any money at this point. And we haven't committed any money."
Dealing with the city
Also, a fraction of the total cost to move to Arlington Heights is the penalty the Bears would have to pay to break their lease at Soldier Field. The team would be on the hook for $84 million if they left as soon as 2026 -- the year many observers believe a new stadium could be ready. The financial penalty would decrease in subsequent years, to as little as $11 million in 2033, when the team's lease with the Chicago Park District expires.
At the same time, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot's administration is still negotiating with the Bears to keep them at Soldier Field or perhaps elsewhere within the city limits. She has said she's willing to talk with McCaskey and Phillips about their existing contract and what can be done to maximize their revenues, but "in a way that's fiscally responsible."
The village's work
Meanwhile, back in Arlington Heights, village officials are set to launch a massive planning process for the Bears-to-Arlington Park redevelopment.
The internal effort is expected to involve nearly every village department and take up a large chunk of time in the coming year.
The review and approval process is expected to include the retention of consultants who have worked on stadium projects elsewhere, a fiscal analysis on the costs and benefits of the stadium project, and a land-use plan that ultimately is subject to village board approval.
"The redevelopment project there will be like no project any of us have ever worked on," Village Manager Randy Recklaus said during 2022 budget discussions in November.