After the sale of Arlington Racecourse International became official earlier this year, most Chicago Bears fans felt it was only a matter of time. Soon the organization would demolish the land and start building their new stadium. All the while, team chairman George McCaskey insisted that wasn’t set in stone yet. There were plenty of hurdles left to clear. Now it appears we’re starting to understand why he’s held such a cautious stance. The news came out recently that new preside Kevin Warren had begun talking with the mayor of Naperville about a possible stadium proposal. This came after reports said various entities were battling the Bears on property taxes.
Most were quick to say this was nothing more than a negotiating tactic by the franchise. However, not everybody thinks it is a total bluff. Marc Ganis is widely regarded as one of the best stadium experts in the business. He’s consulted on several projects during his career and knows the politics involved. He explained the situation on Mully & Haugh for 670 The Score. It comes down to the Bears being trapped in the bureaucratic mess that is Cook County.
“This is unfortunately what happens in Cook County and Illinois with our political system, our wonderful politicians, far too frequently. What you have is a bunch of parties that are trying to make their bones on the backs of the Bears politically. They’re saying, ‘Well, if the Bears wants this we’re going to charge them through the nose for that and we’re going to take the property taxes and this thing that Churchill Downs was paying a couple million dollars a year for and they’re going to have to pay double-digit millions.’ And that’s just to start. That is before they put a $2-3 billion stadium in the ground and before they put any of the ancillary development in the ground, which they will never be able to move.”
While the Bears may own the property, they’re not handcuffed to it yet.
That gives Warren more than enough wiggle room to keep the team’s options open. Ganis said the Naperville move was more than just a publicity stunt. It was the organization allowing an interested suitor to make a pitch. It gets even more interesting too.
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“They’re really…I won’t say destroying it but they are reducing it dramatically to the point where all those great advantages that Arlington Heights has had, they’ve reduced to the point where the Bears are going to talk to other communities like Naperville, which is in a different county jurisdiction. I just heard from somebody at the league that they’re going to have a sit-down meeting with the mayor as well. The new mayor, Mayor (Brandon) Johnson, about if there’s possibly another site in the city of Chicago that he may want to propose. Not Soldier Field. That’s gone. That’s been gone for a long time.”
The Chicago Bears’ path forward depends on county officials.
If the politicians insist on using the organization as leverage for their ambitions, it likely won’t end well. The Bears have spent decades being strong-armed by Cook County. They’re tired of it. If they don’t get the concessions they deem fair, it seems they’re fully prepared to pivot away from Arlington Heights to find other options. Staying in Chicago would quite the swerve, but it also might be a great PR move. Many fans would love it if the team stayed in the city, even if it’s not Soldier Field.
The key factor is ensuring the McCaskey family owns the property. That is the entire reason they embarked on this quest in the first place. They’re tired of being subservient to the Chicago Park District. Perhaps Mayor Johnson can succeed where former Mayor Lightfoot failed. It would be the ending nobody saw coming. After vowing up and down that they were leaving the city, the Chicago Bears end up getting their original wish of a new home away from Soldier Field.