A timeline of the Chicago Bears’ pursuit of new Arlington Heights Stadium
There have been rumors for years that the Chicago Bears will leave Soldier Field – their home arena since 1971. The potential move took a major step forward in September 2021, when the Chicago Bears reached an agreement to purchase the former Arlington International Racecourse property spanning 326 acres in Arlington Heights, Illinois.
The long-term vision for the new Chicago Bears stadium is a work in progress but could include restaurants, some office space, a hotel, a fitness center, new parks and other open spaces, and other improvements for the community to enjoy, in addition to the stadium. Their plans are to turn the space into a “transit-oriented, mixed-use entertainment district anchored by a new, best-in-class enclosed stadium.” The development is seen as “one of the largest development projects in Illinois state history,” according to Bears officials.
However, the City of Chicago has exerted efforts to keep the NFL team at Soldier Field, such as unveiling a redevelopment plan for the area around Soldier Field, as well as a new dome over the stadium.
As the saga continues, we have compiled a timeline of events below.
February 23, 2021. The owners of the Arlington International Racecourse announce plans to sell the property.
- In a press release, Churchill Downs Inc., owners of the Arlington International Racecourse, announced their intent to sell the 326-acre property in suburban Arlington Heights.
- Originally known as Arlington Park, the racetrack opened in 1927 and has been a staple in the Chicagoland area since.
- The venue hosted its final race on September 25, 2021, capping off the event with a grand firework show to celebrate the end of an era where it operated for nearly a century.
June 17, 2021. The Chicago Bears submit an offer to acquire the Arlington International Racecourse.
- Ted Phillips, Chicago Bears President and CEO, released an official statement announcing the team’s preliminary interest to purchase the Arlington International Racecourse Property to build a stadium and develop its surrounding area. Phillips personally called Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes to express the organization's initial plans to redevelop the site.
- Mayor Tom Hayes issued a statement welcoming the Chicago Bears’ interest in the site and expressing excitement about the possibility of the team moving into the suburb.
- There were plans to construct a stadium for the Bears in Arlington Heights back in the 1980s. However, team owners decided instead to renovate Soldier Field with additional funds raised by the state of Illinois to help them do so.
September 29, 2021. The Chicago Bears sign a Purchase and Sale Agreement to acquire the former horse race track – Arlington International Racecourse.
- Following their submission of a bid to acquire the Arlington International Racecourse in the summer, the Chicago Bears reached an agreement with Churchill Downs Inc. to make that purchase – a move that further solidified their plans to build a stadium at the site.
- The Bears signed a purchase agreement of $197.2 million to buy the racetrack property in anticipation of constructing a larger, modernized stadium.
- According to John Breech of CBS Sports, a zoning change approved by the Arlington Heights Village Board allowed for the construction of a football stadium following the Bears’ bid on the property.
- The Village of Arlington Heights expressed its commitment to working together with the Bears organization and all stakeholders to provide this exciting new opportunity to the community of Arlington Heights and the northwest suburban region.
- While the signing of the purchase agreement was a significant step towards the Bears’ potential exit from Soldier Field, there were still many issues left to discuss.
- At a press briefing, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot reiterates her commitment to keeping the Bears in Chicago. “I will do what I can to keep (the Bears) here in the city of Chicago, and I don’t think the door has closed by any means,” she says.
- Mayor Lightfoot says she needs to hear from the Bears organization first, and that team officials have declined to meet with her office.
October 21, 2021. Zoning talks begin between the Chicago Bears and Arlington Heights.
- The Bears and Arlington Heights officials discussed local zoning and permit approval processes for the new Bears stadium.
- As Churchill Downs Inc. collected bids for the Arlington International Racecourse, the Arlington Heights Village Board revamped current zoning laws to ensure that the winning proposal will be in line with their vision for the property.
- Arlington Heights Village Board officials offered two specific uses for the site: a horse track or stadium.
- Arlington Heights' decision to limit potential uses for the property was backed by Jon Ridler, executive director of the Arlington Heights Chamber of Commerce.
- Officials from Arlington Heights require an eco-friendly approach to the development. This includes integrating several environment-friendly features such as green roofs, permeable pavers, electric vehicle charging stations, solar energy systems, and shallow, vegetated depressions that collect stormwater runoff.
- Plans for the development also include the creation of more green space surrounding the nearby Metra station, a central park-type amenity with bike paths, and the preservation of the park along Salt Creek.
- Village officials recommended the prohibition of subdividing the property so that a future owner will need to purchase the entire property and implement a master plan to develop it.
January 10, 2022. Chicago Bears say the sale is on track and aims to complete the purchase by early 2023.
- In a press conference, Ted Phillips provided an update on the Bears’ negotiations to purchase the former Arlington International Racecourse. The acquisition of the property could “take the rest of the year, maybe into the first quarter of 2023. And at that point in time, we will decide whether it’s financially feasible to try to develop it further.” Phillips said.
- Chicago Bears Team Chairman George McCaskey echoed Phillips’ sentiments that the organization is fully committed to completing the purchase in Arlington Heights. “We don’t even own the property yet. We’re exploring the viability of building a football stadium on that property,” he said.
March 17, 2022. The Chicago Bears hire an architectural firm to design the new stadium.
- The Bears hired MANICA Architecture to help with initial plans to develop the proposed stadium in Arlington Heights, IL. Founded in 2007 by David Manica, the Kansas City-based boutique architecture firm specializes in international sport and entertainment venues, with previous high-profile arena projects that include the Chase Center in San Francisco, California; Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, Nevada; and the DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
- In addition to MANICA Architecture, CAA Icon and Jones Lang LaSalle were also tapped to be part of the Chicago Bears new stadium’s initial planning phase. CAA Icon worked with the Chicago Cubs to complete recent renovations for Wrigley Field, while Jones Lang LaSalle is a property investment and commercial real estate firm headquartered in Chicago.
July 6, 2022. The City of Chicago proposes an extensive redevelopment plan for Soldier Field and the Lakeshore area.
- The City of Chicago and Mayor Lori Lightfoot opposed the Bears’ planned relocation. Back in February, Lightfoot assembled a committee of civic leaders to propose a draft containing an outline of renovations to Soldier Field and the surrounding Museum Campus in hopes that the team would stay within city limits.
- Should plans for the Bears relocation push through, Lightfoot did not rule out the possibility of attempting to lure another NFL team to Chicago. When asked whether the city would consider reinventing the stadium for another NFL team, Lightfoot said “I can see that as an option, yes. There’s plenty of cities that have two NFL teams.”
- In addition to the new proposals for renovations of Soldier Field, other plans to elevate the experience of the lakefront were also revealed. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, some of the ideas include:
- Relocating the Northerly Island concert venue to Soldier Field’s north lawn
- Constructing aerial gondolas/monorail system
- A tourist attraction hotel with a “Disney feel”
- Transforming Solidarity Drive into a pedestrian plaza
- Replacing Burnham Harbor with a parking area
- Floating pavilions
July 8, 2022. The Bears reject Soldier Field renovation ideas.
According to an article from the Daily Herald, Arlington Park remains the only project being considered by the Chicago Bears for their new stadium. A team spokesman stated that the Bears organization is “not pursuing alternative stadium deals or sites, including renovations to Soldier Field while we are under contract.”
July 25, 2022. Chicago unveils three proposed renovations for Soldier Field.
- Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot reveals three potential renovation plans for Soldier Field. The proposals that were unveiled are:
- Option 1: Fully enclose Soldier Field by adding columns capable of supporting a dome structure.
- Option 2: Rebuild the end zones by adding columns to make the stadium ready for a dome.
- Option 3: Modify the stadium to make it a multi-purpose venue optimized for soccer while adding more flexibility to accommodate concerts and other events.
- According to Lightfoot, the proposed renovations will benefit the historic stadium, regardless of whether the Bears choose to stay or go. “Should the Bears choose to stay in our city, Soldier Field will be a top ten-tier stadium with a number of new features. But should they choose to leave, Soldier Field will continue to be a premier multipurpose venue that is able to host an array of important and exciting events," she said.
- The estimated costs for each option were expected to range between $900 million and $2.2 billion.
- Plans to equip Soldier Field with new amenities were also revealed, including increasing the total seats and adding suites, major clubs, experiential areas, and a new food and beverage area.
August 24, 2022. Results from a voter poll say Arlington Heights residents welcome the new Chicago Bears stadium, but not if it means increased taxes.
Findings from a survey commissioned by Americans for Prosperity Illinois reveal that 72% of Arlington Heights residents approve the development of a new Bears stadium on the former Arlington Racecourse. 68% of respondents, however, said they would not support the village giving taxpayer dollars to build the new stadium.
September 6, 2022. The Bears organization releases conceptual renderings showcasing what the proposed Arlington Heights campus could look like.
- In an open letter to the public, officials from the Bears organization outline their vision for the project: “A multipurpose entertainment district anchored by a new, best-in-class enclosed stadium, providing Chicagoland with a new home worthy of hosting global events such as the Super Bowl, College Football Playoffs, and Final Four.”
- The preliminary master plan drafted by architecture firm Hart Howerton is highlighted by a 206-acre entertainment and mixed-use district alongside the 120-acre stadium districts. The two districts will be separated by greenery, water features, and a network of tree-lined walking paths.
- According to the Bears website, Arlington Park would be “much more than a stadium project.” Plans for the campus include a “multipurpose entertainment, commercial/retail, and housing district,” together with parks, open spaces, restaurants, office spaces, a fitness center, and a hotel.
- According to the economic impact study done for the Bears:
- $9.4 billion impact for Chicagoland
- $3.9 billion in overall labor income at $601 million a year
- 48,000 jobs, including 9,750 long-term positions
- $16 million in annual tax revenue, in addition to property taxes for Arlington Heights
- $51.3 million in tax revenue for the state of Illinois and $9.8 million for Cook County
September 8, 2022. The potential purchase and redevelopment of the former Arlington International Racecourse were discussed during an informal community meeting at John Hersey High School in Arlington Heights, Illinois.
- Chicago Bears chairman George McCaskey says the team would “be good neighbors” with residents of Arlington Heights if the plans to build the massive stadium in the northwest suburb follow through. However, the chairman added the team “will need help” from taxpayers to make the project a success.
- McCaskey reiterated an earlier announcement from the team that it won’t seek taxpayer help for any costs directly related to the stadium but will require public dollars to support an expansive mixed-use development to maximize the rest of the 326-acre property.
October 4, 2022. Arlington Heights Village Board votes in favor of the Bears.
- The Arlington Heights Village Board voted unanimously (9-0) to deny a proposed ordinance by political action committee, “Americans for Prosperity.” The ordinance would have banned Arlington Heights from providing tax incentives, abatements, or fee reductions to all businesses planning to open a new location within village limits.
- Americans for Prosperity plans to start a new petition that will collect enough signatures to create a referendum. The petition will need the signatures of 6,500 people or 12% of registered voters to bring the issue onto the ballot.
October 10, 2022. Representatives from the Chicago Bears met with the Village of Arlington Heights to further go over the team’s preliminary concept plan for the former Arlington Park Racecourse property.
- The Committee of the Whole met for over 90 minutes with some trustees expressing their concerns over a property development plan that, if completed, will be one of the largest deals in state history.
- Despite signing a $197.2 million purchase agreement in September 2021, the Bears have yet to close on the 326-acre property.
- Bears representatives reiterated that the team is not seeking public funding for the stadium but may need assistance from governmental entities to fund the remainder.
- A member of the Arlington Heights Board of Trustees, Jim Tinaglia, stated in other words that he does not think Arlington Heights needs another large transit-oriented development because the Village already has a central business district and a train station.
- Some members of the Arlington Heights Board of Trustees stated in other words that they do not think Arlington Heights needs another large-transit-oriented development because the Village already has a central business district and a train station. Some other concerns expressed with the Bear’s plan included potential traffic issues and the fear of the currently thriving downtown area failing, "I do want to make sure that when we talk about our community, it's not only all the residents and all the businesses but our downtown. We have a thriving downtown. We want to keep our downtown thriving. We don't want to create downtown part two, and let downtown part one fail." Trustee John Scaletta expressed.
A vote was not part of Monday night's meeting, but village staff said it is working with the Bears to develop a pre-development agreement that aims to achieve the following:
- In the event that the project proceeds, to establish a mutually agreed upon framework and discussion topics;
- Provide assurances about the Village's intentions and predictable processes so that the Chicago Bears Football Club (CBFC) can make a purchasing decision later in 2022;
- The Village wishes to clarify certain expectations of the CBFC during this process; and
- Provide an overview of the discussion so that the public will know what to expect.
October 12, 2022. Commission Public Hearing convenes to discuss Draft Overlay District Zoning Amendment to add Sports Wagering Facility as a Special Use.
- During its meeting on Wednesday night, the Arlington Heights Plan Commission recommended that the Village Board allow a sports betting facility at Arlington International Racecourse, provided it is incorporated into a professional sports stadium. “It merely allows for a sports wagering facility to be considered as a Special Use, subject to review and approval of the Village Board,” Deputy Director of Planning and Community Development Bill Enright wrote in a memo to the commission.
- Upon recommendation of approval from the Plan Commission, the amendment will be brought before the Village Board for final consideration.
The Arlington Heights Village Board has a meeting scheduled for November 7, 2022, where an official vote will be made. A more formal evaluation of the plan will begin once the Bears make a purchasing decision, including economic impact, financial, and transportation studies.
Is it a good move?
Despite Chicago being one of the largest markets for the NFL, there’s no denying that the Chicago Bears are still playing in one of the oldest and smallest stadiums in the league. An extensive renovation will be needed to increase capacity and make Soldier Field a more attractive venue for the long-time franchise.
When viewed from the Bears’ perspective, Soldier Field is owned by the Chicago Park District. This means all profits generated by the stadium aren’t guaranteed to the organization – which will no longer be the case if the new Chicago Bears stadium in Arlington Heights becomes a reality.
Additionally, the Bears organization does not own any of the restaurants and businesses around Soldier Field. With the proposed master plan to create a vibrant mixed-use district surrounding the new stadium in Arlington Heights, there’s an opportunity for the Bears to develop a highly lucrative stadium similar to what other top NFL teams have.
How do you feel about the Chicago Bears’ plans to move to Arlington Heights?
Do you currently own a home in the Arlington Heights area? If you live nearby you may be worrying about foot and vehicle traffic that may result from the proposed development. On the bright side, homes near the stadium could experience a significant rise in property values after the Chicago Bears move to Arlington Heights. Currently, Arlington Heights, IL is still very much a seller's market, which means that there are more people looking to buy than there are homes available. According to realtor.com, Arlington Heights Sale-to-List Price Ratio is 99.12%, which means homes in Arlington Heights, IL, on average, sold for approximately the asking price in September 2022.
On the other hand, buying a home in Arlington Heights near the stadium may be a good investment opportunity, especially when you think of the potential income that can be generated by offering short-term rentals (Airbnb).
If you would like to work with one of our Arlington Heights real estate experts to discuss your real estate concerns or needs, or receive a free no obligation report on what your home may sell for in this market, please give us a call at (847) 563-3311. You can also fill out the contact form below – in the message field you can say “Sell my house Arlington Heights” or “Buy a home in Arlington Heights” and one of our realtors will be in touch.