Taking the next step in building the new stadium, the Chicago Bears announced Thursday an informational community meeting to discuss a potential purchase and development of the Arlington International Raceway.
In a statement, team officials said they will present concept plans for a transit-oriented mixed-use entertainment district based on Arlington Heights Stadium, which will be one of the largest developments in Illinois history.
The meeting is scheduled for Thursday, September 8 from 7-9 p.m. in the gym at Hersey High School, 1900 East Thomas Street, Arlington Heights.
Large crowds are expected, and seating will be available on a first-come, first-served basis. The car park will open at 5:00pm with doors opening at 5:30pm
The meeting is for informational purposes only. If the project is to move forward, all required public meetings will be held before Arlington Heights officials, the team said.
The announcement is in line with Mayor Tom Hayes’ statement that the village will likely begin meetings this fall to discuss the proposal.
Last year, the team and track owner Churchill Downs announced an agreement in which the Bears would buy the 326-acre racetrack for $197 million, pending final review and approval by both parties. The transaction is expected to close in early 2023.
Any development must be approved by village officials. The mayor welcomed the team’s proposed relocation from Chicago’s Soldier Field and floated the idea with limited local taxpayer support.
In response, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced a proposal to build a dome atop Soldier Field and expand its capacity from 61,500 (the smallest in the NFL) to 70,000.
But the city is already operating at a loss and is still paying for the stadium’s last renovation in 2003, without specifying how it will pay for such an expensive project.
Lightfoot’s press office issued a statement saying she had made a “compelling case” for the Bears to remain at Chicago’s “Tier 1” stadium.
“The city will continue to prove to the Bears, the NFL and the public that a revitalized Soldier Field makes the most economic sense,” said spokesperson Kate LeFurgy.
Arlington Heights Mayor Hayes called the meeting an encouraging sign.
“They are accelerating the speed of the project as we move towards that goal,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to get initial feedback from the community, so that’s a really important and exciting part of the process.”
He stressed that this was not a village meeting and he would not attend it so as not to interfere.
A Bears spokesman declined to comment further on the meeting.
The meeting is expected to discuss more about the property’s overall development as an entertainment district than the details of the stadium. The team has the opportunity to let the public know how the project is progressing and to encourage feedback. The team is expected to stress that the purchase of the property – and subsequent development – has not yet been completed.
The Bears have called Soldier Field their home since 1971, but the team has been discussing or proposing games elsewhere for most of the past 50 years.
Wrigley Field was the team’s original home when it moved to Chicago in 1921 and remained there until 1970.
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But after the NFL merged with the National Football League, the Bears were forced to find a new home and demanded a stadium capacity of at least 50,000 fans.
A recent poll by a self-described liberal group found that a majority of Arlington Heights residents surveyed supported the Bears’ move from Soldier Field to their village, but opposed any tax subsidies to help the team do so.
A poll released last month found that 72 percent of respondents agreed with the Bears’ proposal to build a stadium at the closed Arlington International Raceway, but 68 percent opposed using the tax to help the team.
The poll also found strong support of 55%-30% for an ordinance that would prohibit Arlington Heights from using taxpayer funds to help build stadiums or other “corporate benefits.”
The survey, sponsored by Illinois Prosperous Americans, founded by the conservative billionaire Koch brothers, surveyed 300 registered voters in the village.