A new Chicago Bears stadium in Aurora? Mayor, officials say the western suburb is ‘an ideal choice’

AURORA, Ill. — There’s a western suburban municipality that could be suitable for a new Chicago Bears stadium.

So say its mayor and area officials, at least.

In a recent Chicago Tribune op-ed, co-authored by Aurora mayor Richard Irvin, State Sen. Linda Holmes (42nd District), State Rep. Barbara Hernandez (50th District) and Naperville Township assessor Matt Rasche, officials say “our city’s vision and professional know-how make Aurora the natural choice for the Bears’ next era.”

The pitch from officials in and around Aurora comes as the Bears face obstacles over their downtown Chicago lakefront stadium plan, which the teams says has been its main focus for a while now.

The Bears unveiled their plan for a domed lakefront stadium just south of Soldier Field in April. But while the team says it will contribute just over $2 billion for that plan, it also asks for a significant amount of public funding for infrastructure improvements and stadium financing costs.

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Gov. JB Pritzker and state officials have repeatedly said no to public funding for new sports stadium projects. Officials for Pritzker’s office reiterated early last month the Bears’ new lakefront stadium proposal remains a “non-starter.”

State lawmakers also did not take up any Bears stadium funding issues in their recent state budget negotiations before adjourning for the spring, meaning it’ll be at least until fall before state lawmakers tackle the topic again.

Arlington Park property

In the meantime, the Bears still own the Arlington Park property in the northwest suburb of Arlington Heights that they purchased in February 2023 for $197.2 million. Demolition began soon after on the site, the former home of Arlington International Racecourse.

However, the Bears and local school districts in and around Arlington Heights reached an impasse on the valuation of the property, leaving the Bears with a higher property tax burden there than they feel they should have to pay.

The Bears have since said they’ve shifted their focus to the city, specifically the lakefront, although that doesn’t necessarily mean a Bears’ move to Arlington Heights is dead at this point.

Officials tout Aurora

So with the Bears facing obstacles both along Chicago’s lakefront and out in Arlington Heights, Aurora’s mayor and area officials made their pitch, saying “the Bears don’t need to call for a Hail Mary pass; they have an ideal choice in Aurora, our state’s second-largest and fastest-growing economy.”

The op-ed goes on to say, “Aurora has many advantages that few communities in Illinois can match.” It also touts the city’s Aurora Entertainment District, which the op-ed says is “anchored by a $400 million expansion and revision of the Hollywood Casino” and will “be home to a new 225-room premier hotel and 12,000 square feet of event space, a 1,000-space parking garage, and a host of restaurant and entertainment venues.”

The op-ed also highlights other features officials say would make Aurora an ideal location for a new Bears stadium, including its accessibility “by car, rail or plane,” as well as its “three major interstate interchanges, two of the most-used Metra stops in Illinois and easy access to two international airports and one regional airport.”

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And in perhaps the strongest appeal to the hearts of Bears officials, the op-ed says Aurora wouldn’t present the financial roadblocks the team has run into from other locations in its efforts to build a new stadium.

Construction in Aurora, officials claim, could begin right away.

“Aurora will move now on a significant domed stadium that benefits everyone,” the op-ed says. “We have properties ripe for development and incentives that are unmatched.

“Fans won’t be reading about stalled negotiations or potential lawsuits if the Bears choose Aurora.”

More complex in reality

Of course, all these laudatory statements and promises were made in an op-ed piece by officials heavily invested in Aurora’s success, so naturally their city would sound like a perfect match for the Bears.

In reality, an actual plan would have to address a huge myriad of financial and construction implications.

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Wherever a potential new Bears stadium could be built, it’ll be a colossal — and expensive — project, considering the team wants its proposed new stadium to be able to host major national events like the Super Bowl and Final Four, along with concerts and other big non-sporting events.

It’s likely the Bears would want any new stadium to be surrounded by an entertainment district to be used by thousands of NFL fans and tourists.

Perhaps Aurora would indeed be an ideal fit, for the reasons officials say in their op-ed. But just saying that is a lot less complicated than coming up with a plan that works for the Bears, the NFL, local and state governments, and tax-paying residents — the latter demographic often being the most challenging hurdle to clear.

Still, there’s nothing wrong with taking your shot, and Aurora’s mayor and area officials have done just that.

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