The Naperville Bears? Team says they’re considering sites other than Arlington Park

Bears confirm interest in other sites after team president Kevin Warren meets with Naperville mayor

Chicago Bears Chairman George H. McCaskey, left, shakes hands with new President & CEO Kevin Warren, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023, at Halas Hall in Lake Forest.

The Naperville Bears?

Plans for the Chicago Bears to plant their goal posts in the suburbs took a surprising turn Friday afternoon when Naperville mayor Scott Wehrli met with team president Kevin Warren to discuss the possibility of building a new NFL stadium in Naperville rather than Arlington Heights.

The meeting between Wehrli and Warren took place despite the team buying the 326 acres at Arlington Park on the western edge of Arlington Heights for $197.2 million. The deal to buy the shuttered racetrack closed in February.

Wehrli sent a letter to Warren, dated May 24, that’s termed a formal introduction to the Bears “as you consider or reassess your planned relocation. The city would welcome the opportunity to review your business needs and our available properties.”

The talks come as demolition work begins at Arlington Park and Arlington Heights officials wait for the Bears to submit more detailed plans outlining the organization’s vision of a potential $5 billion redevelopment of the Arlington Park site that would be centered around a new, domed stadium.

On Friday, the Bears released a statement saying they now are looking at stadium opportunities other than Arlington Park.

“We will continue the ongoing demolition activity and work toward a path forward in Arlington Heights, but it is no longer our singular focus,” Scott Hagel, Bears senior vice president of marketing and communications said in a statement. “It is our responsibility to listen to other municipalities in Chicagoland about potential locations that can deliver on this transformational opportunity for our fans, our club and the state of Illinois.”

Linda LaCloche, Naperville’s director of communications, said Wehrli reached out last week to Warren to introduce Naperville “as a thriving community with multiple opportunities for business investment.”

“With economic development as one of his primary focuses,” LaCloche said, “the mayor will continue to highlight Naperville’s benefits to businesses throughout Chicagoland and across the country.”

LaCloche would not say which specific Naperville properties were discussed for building a stadium. Because the city is void of a large enough parcel of vacant land, an existing developed location likely would need to be razed and redeveloped.

Wehrli wrote to Warren that, as a lifelong Bears fan, he respects the team’s decision to build its own stadium as “essential for on-field success and pursuing championships.”

The Bears currently play at Chicago’s Soldier Field, which is owned and operated by the Chicago Park District. Bears officials have said the arrangement limits the team’s ability to maximize its revenue.

This isn’t the first time there’s been hopes of a Bears move to the suburbs. Through the years, the Bears have considered sites in Hanover Park, Hoffman Estates, Aurora, Elk Grove Village and Waukegan. And once before in Arlington Heights.

Wehrli’s letter touts Naperville as accessible through major highways, such as the east-west Interstate 88 and the north-south Interstate 355, as well as the city’s downtown Metra train station. There also are Metra stops in nearby Lisle and on Route 59 in Aurora.

The meeting is a major splash for Wehrli, who was elected in April and has been mayor for only a month. A lifelong Naperville resident with family roots in the community dating to the 1840s, his letter to Warren stresses the impact an NFL stadium would have on the city.

“We have several available or to-be-available sites that may fit the characteristics you are looking for in your future home,” Wehrli wrote to Warren. “Like you, I am new to my role. I pledged to pursue responsible economic development to support Naperville’s thriving economy. Being the home of the Chicago Bears would unlock tremendous economic benefits for our community.”

Wehrli also stresses Naperville’s various business groups and the city staff’s ability to pursue and complete major business developments.

“I have been on the board of directors of the Naperville Development Partnership, the city’s economic development partner, in my private-sector capacity as a business owner and community banker,” he wrote. “This group has a track record of working with businesses to make investments in Naperville the right decision for their organization and our community.”