CHICAGO (AP) – The Chicago Bears plan to build an enclosed suburban stadium that could host Super Bowls, College Football Playoff games and Final Fours.
The Bears released conceptual illustrations Tuesday of the proposed stadium and entertainment complex that would be built on the site of a former horse racing track in Arlington Heights, Illinois. The Bears said the project could include restaurants, office space, a hotel, fitness center, new parks and open areas as well as “other improvements for the community to enjoy.”
“We envision a multi-purpose 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 team said in a statement.
The Bears said they would not seek public funding for the stadium if the sale of the 326-acre property is completed and if they decide to move there. But they would seek taxpayer assistance for the rest of the project.
The organization signed a purchase agreement last year for the tract of land that is about 30 miles northwest of Soldier Field. Bears President and CEO Ted Phillips, who announced last week that he will retire after this season, said a deal likely wouldn’t close until early 2023.
The Bears’ lease at Soldier Field, where the team has played since 1971, runs through 2033.
In July, Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot proposed three options for renovating the stadium. One included enclosing it, and another called for rebuilding both end zones with columns that could support a dome. A third option was to modify it to be a multipurpose facility better suited for soccer.
The Bears said Tuesday they will not consider Soldier Field renovations or explore any other potential stadium sites while they are under contract for the property in Arlington Heights.
“Much remains to be decided, but any decision will be made in the best interests of the Bears long-term future, our fans and the Chicagoland community,” the team said.
Of the three illustrations released Tuesday, one is a map showing the stadium near a highway and commuter rail tracks and the mixed-use district southeast of the stadium. Two other aerial illustrations show the stadium and several other buildings and green spaces.
The Bears did not mention what the seating capacity would be at a new stadium, nor potential costs to construct the stadium or develop the rest of the property. They said construction would create more than 48,000 jobs, as well as $9.4 billion in economic impact for the region and provide $3.9 billion in income to workers.
The Bears estimate the completed project would add 9,750 long-term jobs, $1.4 billion in annual economic impact and $601 million a year in income to workers.
The Bears also said the project would generate $16 million in annual tax revenue, in addition to property taxes for Arlington Heights, $9.8 million for Cook County, and $51.3 million for the State of Illinois — calling the possible development “one of the largest development projects in Illinois state history.”
Soldier Field is owned by the Chicago Park District and underwent a $690 million transformation in 2002 that forced the team to play home games at the University of Illinois and ultimately led to the loss of the stadium’s National Historic Landmark designation.
The interior was demolished, replaced by a flying saucer-like, glass-dominated structure cantilevered over the famous Greek and Romanesque colonnades. The clash of styles drew criticism, and the renovation reduced seating for Bears games to 61,500, the lowest in the NFL.
The lakefront location and harsh weather make it difficult to maintain the playing surface, and the often choppy condition has also been a sore spot for players and coaches on the Bears, as well as other teams.
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