Kevin Warren should make Bears ambitious with new stadium dreams

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'Time is right:' Warren intrigued by Bears' 'unique stadium site' originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

LAKE FOREST, Ill. – Even before he was ticketed to leave the Big Ten for Halas Hall, self-proclaimed “stadium nerd” Kevin Warren swung by Arlington Park to take a look.

The Bears new president wanted to get eyes on the 326-acre plot of land that he and chairman George McCaskey hope will become the team’s new home.

“Even when I heard about the Arlington Park opportunity, I drove out there one day on my own just to look around,” Warren said Tuesday during his introductory press conference at Halas Hall. “Again, I always look at what are the assets on the chessboard. And the unique thing about Arlington is it has some different unique factors.

“One is the space. You don't get many times to have over 300 acres close to the city. So it's some unique aspects. I know our focus will be to making sure that we close on the land. And again, like I said early on, be very methodical to make sure that we get that process done first and see what happens next. But it is a very attractive, unique stadium site.”

The Bears remain in escrow on the land and hope to close during the first quarter of 2023. They are still trying to sort out the property taxes on the land and get funding for infrastructure. The plan to build a stadium with an entertainment district, retail, housing, etc., will be a massive undertaking.

That’s undoubtedly one of the many reasons Warren was an attractive candidate to take the reigns from outgoing president Ted Phillips.

Warren brings with him a wealth of experience in planning and executing the building of a new NFL stadium. As Chief Operating Officer of the Minnesota Vikings, Warren was integral in getting U.S. Bank Stadium built as well as the Vikings’ new practice facility in Eagan, Minn.

"Well, Kevin said it was built on time and under budget. So that would be right up there,” McCaskey said Tuesday when asked what he liked about Warren’s experience with stadiums.

On Tuesday, Warren declined to give specific thoughts about the Bears’ potential new home at Arlington Park. He said he would need six months to review all the information before providing a timeline on when the stadium might be finished.

But Warren did acknowledge that he believes now is the time for the Bears to be looking for a new, long-term, state-of-the-art home.

“One thing I found out, especially with stadium development projects, you have to create what’s the why?” Warren said. “And what’s the why for everyone? It can’t just be, what’s the why for the Chicago Bears, or what’s the why for this group or that group? One of the things I’ll really start thinking is, what’s the why? No matter what constituent group you put in front of me, what’s the why? The more common the why that you have, the more people will understand.

“It’s like winning a championship. I’ve never met a person who you meet and you go, ‘Do you want to be a champion?’ And they go, ‘No, I don’t want to be a champion.’ They say, ‘Of course, I want to be a champion.’ The question becomes, ‘Can you put in the work to do it?’ With stadium development projects, and one of the many things I learned in Minnesota, is you have to create a compelling story of why it makes sense. I just believe at this point in time, where we are in our lifespan in the NFL of the Chicago Bears, that the time is right.”

Phillips noted that even if the Bears close on the Arlington Park property, it doesn’t mean they will develop something there.

However, Phillips was clear the Bears need something better than what Soldier Field currently provides.

“We need a lot of fan amenities because of the tight sight that Soldier Field is on and the ingress, egress issues, things like that that are very difficult with Soldier Field,” Phillips said. “You mentioned Minnesota. And I think if this goes forward – and I know we’ve been saying if – but if it goes forward, it will be an enclosed stadium. And we love what they did in Minnesota where the light comes in and you feel like you’re outside but you’re not.”

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U.S. Bank Stadium in Minnesota would appear to be the obvious model for Warren and the Bears to follow if they develop at Arlington Park.

We know the stadium will be fully enclosed with no retractable roof. But other than that, Phillips was light on the potential details of the design.

“It’s a great stadium,” Phillips said when asked about State Farm Stadium in Arizona. “It works for them. I’m not sure right now. We haven’t even designed the stadium. Right now, it’s just a footprint if we end up developing that site. It’s kind of hard to start ticking off different features of stadiums. But I think you guys all know what’s needed at Soldier Field in terms of fan amenities.”

Warren kept all of his binders and research from his time helping get U.S. Bank Stadium built in Minnesota. He emphasized that the Bears must be “methodical and detailed” in their planning for the new stadium.

But make no mistake. A new stadium is almost certainly on the way.

“Yes, that’s the sole focus,” Warren said of Arlington Park and the Bears’ stadium plans. “One-hundred percent.”

With Warren on board, the Bears should be even more full-steam ahead with their new stadium plans. He's detailed, methodical, and has the vision that should allow the Bears to shoot big when drawing up plans for the franchise's future home.

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