The Chicago Bears’ plans to plant goalposts in the suburbs took a surprising turn Friday afternoon when Naperville Mayor Scott Werley met with team president Kevin Warren to discuss the possibility of building a new NFL stadium in Naperville instead of in Arlington Heights.
The meeting between Wehrli and Warren occurred despite the team’s purchase of 326 acres in Arlington Park on the western edge of Arlington Heights for $197.2 million. The deal to buy the indoor racetrack closed in February.
On Friday, the Bears issued a statement saying that the Arlington Heights project is “in jeopardy” and that the team is now looking at stadium opportunities other than Arlington Park. Part of the reason, the statement reads, is that disagreements persist over potential property tax assessments.
Earlier this year, Cook County manager Fritz Keegee raised the value of the Arlington Park property from $33.5 million to $197 million. That would increase the annual property tax bill from $2.8 million to $16.2 million. The Bear Family resumes Keiji’s evaluation.
“The stadium-based project continues to be widely popular in Arlington Heights, Chicagoland, and the state,” Scott Hagel, Bears’ senior vice president of marketing and communications, said in a statement. “However, the original valuation of the property at five times the 2021 tax value, and the recent settlement with Churchill Downs for 2022 three times higher, does not reflect that the property is not ready for operation and is not commercially viable in its current condition.”
The meeting between Werley and Warren comes just as demolition work begins at Arlington Park. Arlington Heights officials are waiting for the Bears to present more detailed plans outlining the organization’s vision for a potential $5 billion redevelopment of the Arlington Park site that will center around a new domed stadium.
Hagel said the team’s goal is to build “the largest single development project in Illinois history led by billions of dollars in private capital investment, jobs and economic benefits generated,” and that the team is doing due diligence in pursuing options for its future stadium.
NFL experts credit Warren with responsibility for directing the construction of US Bank Stadium for the Minnesota Vikings, which opened in 2016. He was named head of the Bears in January and work officially began in April, nearly two years after team and Arlington Heights officials began discussing stadium prospects. in Arlington Park.
“We will continue the ongoing demolition activity and work to move forward in Arlington Heights, but it is no longer our sole focus,” Hagel said. “It is our responsibility to hear from other municipalities in Chicagoland about potential locations that can provide this transformative opportunity for our fans, our club, and the state of Illinois.”
Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes acknowledged Friday that the Bears, as a for-profit organization, “should be looking at all of its options.” But he said the village is “very encouraging” because the Bears have purchased the Arlington Park property.
“We’ve come a long way down the road in terms of redeveloping this site,” said Hayes. “I understand that there are challenges ahead that still need to be overcome. But I still believe that the Arlington Park property is a very unique property that will be in the Bears’ interest for their ballpark for the next 50 years or more.”
Hayes said team officials Friday morning provided the village with information about the Naperville meeting.
“I told them at the time that I definitely knew they had to do their due diligence, and when someone calls them, they should take the call,” Hayes said. “I will do the same. And so, I just have confidence that the Arlington Park property is the best option for the Bears going forward. But we still have a long way to go in terms of turning that into a reality, and we have to do our due diligence as well in terms of ensuring that it’s a win-win.” for us “.
According to Linda Lacloche, Naperville’s director of communications, Werley last week reached out to Warren to introduce Naperville as “a thriving community with multiple business investment opportunities.” He sent a letter to Warren dated May 24, which is called an official introduction to the Beers family “while considering your planned relocation or re-evaluation. The City welcomes the opportunity to review your business needs and the property we have available.”
“With economic development as one of his primary focuses, the Mayor will continue to highlight the benefits of Naperville to businesses across Chicagoland and across the country,” said LaCloche.
LaCloche did not mention the specific properties of Naperville that were being discussed to build a stadium. Since the city is devoid of a large enough vacant lot, it is likely that an existing developer site will need to be bulldozed and redeveloped.
Werley wrote to Warren that, as a lifelong Bears fan, he respected the team’s decision to build its own stadium as “essential to success on the field and to pursuing championships.”
The Bears’ current home, Soldier Field, is owned and operated by the Chicago Park District. Bears officials said the arrangement limited the team’s ability to maximize its revenue.
This is not the first time that hopes have been raised of the Bears moving to the suburbs. Over the years, the bears have studied locations in Hanover Park, Hoffman Estates, Aurora, Elk Grove Village, and Waukegan — plus once before in Arlington Heights.
Wehrli’s letter describes Naperville as accessible by major interstates, such as East-West Interstate 88 and North-South Interstate 355, as well as a downtown metro station. There are also metro stations in nearby Leslie and on Route 59 in Aurora.
The meeting is a major milestone for Fairley, a lifelong Naperville resident who was elected in April and has only been mayor for one month. His letter to Warren emphasizes the impact the NFL stadium has had on the city.
Werley wrote to Warren, “We have several locations available or will be available that may suit the characteristics you are looking for in your future home.” “Like you, I am new in my role. I have made a commitment to pursue responsible economic development in support of Naperville’s thriving economy. Being the home of the Chicago Bears would unlock enormous economic benefits for our community.”
• Daily Herald writer Caitlin Smith contributed to this report.