Talks between Chicago officials and the Bears could resume soon as the team plans new stadium options | chicago news

The Chicago Bears are playing the field and the team’s search for a new stadium is expanding, with Arlington Heights, Naperville and other communities being talked about as locations for a potential new stadium.

Those talks have also reignited the possibility of the team staying with the city, with a source telling WTTW News that talks between the city of Chicago and the team could resume this week.

Demolition began last week at the former horse racing track in Arlington Heights, for which the team paid nearly $200 million in February, sparking speculation the Bears were determined to make the northwestern suburb their new home.

Instead, Bears CEO Kevin Warren released a statement Friday saying that because of what the team says is too high a property tax bill, Arlington Heights is no longer the “focus singular” of the Bears.

Warren apparently accepted an invitation from Naperville’s new mayor, Scott Wehrli, who lured the team in with a letter saying he’s a lifelong fan who represents a community with a lot to offer.

“Naperville is accessible via all major Interstates and Metra highways in our region. We have several available or soon to be available sites that may meet the features you are looking for in your future home,” the letter states.

Arlington Heights Mayor Thomas Hayes says he always knew the Bears would keep their options open and that for it to work, both sides need the final deal to be beneficial.

It’s important to realize that it was Naperville that instigated the conversation, not the other way around, Hayes said.

“If I were the Bears, I would take the phone call,” he added. “And if I were a local mayor owning property in my community, I would also work to attract an NFL franchise to my community. I can certainly understand where everyone is coming from.”

Hayes said the notion of competition has spurred some residents to push him to do more to attract the Bears, while others say “bon voyage.”

The Town of Arlington Heights is not directly involved in negotiations over the property tax assessment of the former racetrack site. Hayes said he is trying to encourage conversations between the team and the three school districts that rely heavily on property taxes from the site. Other considerations include traffic patterns, talks with the railroad, and making sure the end result is a net financial benefit to the region.

Despite flirting with other communities, Hayes said it feels good that Arlington Heights is a winner in the end.

“The Bears have been looking for the property in Arlington Park for about 50 years, going back to the mid-1970s. And I truly believe it’s their dream site,” Hayes said. “Right in the middle of his hobby in the northwest suburbs. And so I really don’t anticipate them walking away from this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Hayes said.

Not so fast, according to an ally of Mayor Brandon Johnson, who said the Bears’ word is open to other opportunities presents an opportunity for the city of Chicago.

State Rep. Kam Buckner is running for mayor, played soccer for the University of Illinois and is a member of Johnson’s transition team.

He said that unlike the New York Jets and Giants who play in New Jersey, and the LA Rams and Chargers who play in suburban Inglewood, it’s special that all of Chicago’s sports teams play within the actual confines of the city, and it should remain so. shape.

“The Bears consider the idea of ​​moving to Naperville, I think it opens a window of hope for those of us who have always felt that we should still have conversations about how to find a deal that makes sense for both the city of Chicago and Chicago. Bear Organization,” Buckner said. “And I think Mayor Johnson really deserves the chance to broker that deal.”

Buckner’s district covers Soldier Field, so he’s in favor of the team staying here. But he says Chicago should also be open to possibilities elsewhere given the Bears’ desire to host concerts and have a hotel.

“This is not a done deal. We have time, we have space,” Buckner said. “The great Chicago writer, Nelson Algren, said, ‘Chicago is a ninth-inning city.’ We’re talking about soccer, so I think it’s a fourth-quarter city. I think we’ll figure it out.”

Buckner said he knows from previous conversations with Johnson that the mayor wants the chance to keep the team in Chicago, but Bucker said he hasn’t discussed the Bears with Johnson since word broke Friday about the Naperville proposal.

Johnson’s office did not return a call Monday seeking comment, nor did the Bears.

But a source with knowledge of the situation says a talk between the two parties is likely to take place in the coming days.

Meanwhile, the lawmaker who sponsored legislation (HB610) that would freeze property taxes on the racetrack to help the Bears move to Arlington Heights said he is focused on getting the best deal for the Bears.

State Rep. Marty Moylan, D-Des Plaines, said he had the votes to pass his bill during the just-closed session of the General Assembly, but didn’t because he wanted to give communities and the team time to come to an agreement. agreement. on property taxes. The measure also calls for sharing sales tax revenue from good stadium purchases with Arlington Heights and surrounding communities, and instituting a $3 surcharge on Bears game tickets that would go to Chicago to help pay the debt from the last round of renovations aimed at maintaining the team. in the Soldier’s Field.

“They are the driving force, it’s not me,” Moylan said. “It’s that whatever deal works for them, the numbers have to work. The money has to work, for them to be a viable operation. They don’t have (Dallas Cowboys owner and billionaire) Jerry Jones the kind of money. They (the owners of the Bears, the McCaskeys) are a very frugal family.”

Moylan represents parts of the northwest suburbs, so he’s more interested in the team going to Arlington Heights. He said the massive, multi-purpose development the Bears envision would be huge for the region, providing jobs and great financial benefits.

“Remember that Cook County will not receive any sales tax if (the team) moves to Naperville. (Cook County Board) Chairman (Toni) Preckwinkle is going to say ‘where’s mine?’ if he all of a sudden he goes to Naperville,” Moylan said. “Rockford threw his hat in the ring, and other cities are going to throw their hat in the ring. Because this is a multi-million dollar proposal. A domed stadium. We can have Super Bowls here.”

Moylan said he knows Rockford is making a pitch, though he hasn’t seen the offer.

Rockford officials did not return a request for comment.Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @AmandaVinicky