The Chicago Bears last week announced they would be exploring other options outside of Arlington Heights following a tax hiccup, but could that mean Soldier Field is back in play?
Bears President and CEO Kevin Warren issued a joint statement with Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson Wednesday.
“Today we met and discussed our shared values and commitment to the city of Chicago, the importance of deep roots and the need for equitable community investment throughout the city," the statement read. "We are both committed to the idea that the city and its major civic institutions must grow and evolve together to meet the needs of the future. We look forward to continuing the dialogue around these shared values.”
While the statement doesn't directly mention Soldier Field or the future stadium for the Bears, it comes on the heels of the team saying their Arlington Park plans were "at risk."
In a statement to NBC Chicago Friday, the Bears said while they are still working on the Arlington Heights location, "it is no longer our singular focus."
“The Chicago Bears goal of building the largest single development project in Illinois history led by billions of dollars in private capital investment, and the jobs and economic benefits generated, is at risk in Arlington Heights," the team's statement read. "The stadium-based project remains broadly popular in Arlington Heights, Chicagoland and the state. However, the property’s original assessment at five times the 2021 tax value, and the recent settlement with Churchill Downs for 2022 being three times higher, fails to reflect the property is not operational and not commercially viable in its current state. We will continue the ongoing demolition activity and work toward a path forward in Arlington Heights, but it is no longer our singular focus. It is our responsibility to listen to other municipalities in Chicagoland about potential locations that can deliver on this transformational opportunity for our fans, our club and the State of Illinois.”
Outside of Chicago, a spokesperson for Naperville also confirmed Mayor Scott Wehrli "reached out to the Chicago Bears organization to introduce as a thriving community with multiple opportunities for business investment."
"With economic development as one of his primary focuses, the mayor will continue to highlight Naperville’s benefits to businesses throughout Chicagoland and across the country," spokesperson Linda LaCloche said in a statement, "These benefits include having the second largest economy in Illinois, along with a highly educated workforce, top ranked public safety, a vibrant downtown, excellent public transit and close proximity to major interstates, making it an attractive community for all types of business investment."
In a letter to Bears President and CEO Kevin Warren last week, Wehrli touted the community's accessibility and said there are several sites already available or soon-to-be available for the Bears' future home.
"As a lifelong Bears fan, I respect that the team has decided that developing and operating its own stadium is essential for on-field success and pursuing championships," the letter read. "On behalf of the City of Naperville, I would like to formally introduce our community to your organization as you consider or reassess your planned relocation. The city would welcome the opportunity to review your business needs and our available properties."
The team had most recently received sign-off to begin the initial phase of demolition plans in Arlington Heights.
The village posted on its website last month that approval was given for Phase 1 of the project, which allows for interior demolition, specifically knocking down the grandstand, office and jockey building.
The village of Arlington Heights released a statement Friday after the team revealed that it's exploring other possible locations.
"...The Village has always expected that the club would explore any and all viable locations as part of their due diligence process," the statement read, in part.
The village went on to tout the benefits of the Arlington Park location, such as having a dedicated Metra station and easy access to O'Hare Airport as well as Interstate 90 and Route 53.
"It is clear that the Chicago Bears Football Club understands the unique potential of this site, as evidenced by their recent purchase of the property," the statement continued. "The Village is committed to work with the club and all other regional stakeholders to continue to explore the potential redevelopment of this site and to work through the inevitable challenges that come with any large development effort."
In recent weeks, the potential move to Arlington Heights got a little more complicated after the Cook County Assessor hiked the assessed value of the team’s newly acquired land, meaning their property tax bill could be headed for a major increase.
The team closed on the purchase of the 326-acre site that held the former Arlington International Racecourse in February, paying $197.2 million for the property. The previous assessed value sat at roughly $33 million, but as part of the triennial reassessment, Assessor Fritz Kaegi’s office placed its value at $197 million. That increase could hike the property tax bill proportionally, spelling out a potential sixfold spike.
The Bears are asking the Board of Review to reassess the tax value of the property. A hearing is expected to take place on the matter in June.
"Our office’s mission is to assess property based on market value," a spokesperson for the Cook County Assessor's office said Friday. "The 2022 assessment of the former Arlington Racecourse site is consistent with both the 2023 purchase price of the property and the price per square foot of other similarly sized land in the area. The facts speak for themselves."