How Kevin Warren hire affects new Bears stadium plans originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
Four months after Ted Phillips announced his retirement as Bears president/CEO, the team found his replacement. The Bears announced on Thursday that Kevin Warren will lead the organization moving forward. One of the first questions on many people’s minds is likely, “How will this hire affect the Bears’ move to Arlington Heights?” It may be surprising, but the answer is really, “Not at all.”
Technically the Bears still need to close on their purchase agreement for Arlington Park, but the team has made it clear that moving to the suburbs is their singular focus in regards to the Bears’ next home. Bears chairman George McCaskey said in a town hall meeting back in September that the team will not explore any other options for a new stadium besides Arlington Park while the team is under contract to purchase the property. The city can publish as many flashy renderings of a dome at Soldier Field as they like, the Bears aren’t interested.
The key is that Arlington Park provides the Bears an opportunity to own their own land, as opposed to leasing Soldier Field from the city. By purchasing and developing their own property, the Bears can raise the value of their organization astronomically. That opportunity is too good to pass up.
Back to Warren. Where does he fit in, and why is he the guy? One of Warren’s first charges will be to bring the Arlington Park deal across the finish line, then develop both a new stadium and an entertainment district on the property. That is precisely what Warren did as COO of the Minnesota Vikings when the team opened U.S. Bank Stadium in 2016. U.S. Bank Stadium is regarded as one of the nicest venues in the NFL, and it has a fixed roof, just like the Bears want at Arlington Park. The area surrounding the stadium has been developed to accommodate other entertainment options, like the Vikings Longhouse, a restaurant and bar where fans can eat and drink before or after games. Again, this matches the Bears’ goals for their new home.
Another buzzword for the Bears’ project at Arlington Park is “transit-oriented.” The team has repeatedly brought up the property’s proximity to a Metra station as a huge benefit, and wants to use that proximity to develop a “transit-oriented district.” Warren once again has experience in this regard since U.S. Bank Stadium was built with a pre-existing light rail stop just outside.
The Bears also want their new stadium to host a lot more than football. Right now, Soldier Field almost exclusively hosts football games and concerts. There have been occasional soccer games and the NHL’s Winter Classic. The team expressed the desire to host bigger events like the Super Bowl or the Final Four. U.S. Bank Stadium has hosted each.
The Bears want to do things on a bigger scale, which of course means a bigger challenge. But Warren has demonstrated he can lead a mixed-use project like they envision.
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