The conversation around a potential move from Chicago to Arlington Heights for the Bears is like both a beautiful Hawaiian sunrise and a five-alarm fire.
At both ends of the spectrum, love it or hate it, you just can’t look away.
That’s how this story has lasted 45 years.
[ Chicago Bears submit bid to purchase Arlington Park site ]
George “Papa Bear” Halas first threatened to move the Bears to Arlington Heights in the spring of 1975, and Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley said “Fine, take your Bears, but you aren’t going to call them Chicago.”
By my count the Bears have threatened to leave the city at least seven more times since, including three more times for Arlington Heights. But in not one of those situations did anything progress past the public-jousting stage.
Is it any more real this time?
If the Bears have already secured a deep-pocketed real estate developer or multi-billion dollar hedge fund to finance it, this time could be different.
If not the finger pointing and name-calling will probably fade away over the next few months and the team will stay put.
All I can do right now is give you three good reasons it should happen, and three more why it shouldn’t.
[ Hub Arkush: The Bears have interest in Arlington, but how would the money work? ]
1. This could be the perfect way to create a solid succession plan for Virginia McCaskey. Purchasing the 326 acres of land the track sits on significantly enhances the value of the team. It allows the McCaskeys to then sell the interests of the children who want out to a partner with the resources and know how to get the development done in exchange for significant ownership of the development and a smaller interest in the team. And it could still leave the children who want to be in ownership as the largest block of shareholders, if not the majority, and with some new ownership in the development.
2. Building a major entertainment venue with a casino, hotel, restaurants and bars, retail space, plenty of parking and perhaps even apartments or condos would do little for Chicago, but it would generate a ton of new revenue for Arlington Heights, Cook County and the state. And it would also almost certainly deliver Super Bowls, Final Fours, mega concerts, and more convention business. Combine a new stadium with Wrigley, Guaranteed Rate Field and Soldier Field, and the city could still be in play for the Olympics, etc., and that could benefit Chicago too as most visitors are likely to want to stay downtown.
3. Having failed as an NFL landlord, it would free Chicago to reimagine the entire lakefront, or even just the museum campus, and create dramatic new revenue generators of its own – quite possibly a mega casino – and far more revenue than it gets out of 10 dates from the Bears.
1. One of the biggest complaints about Soldier Field is access, but Arlington Heights could make access worse. The Kennedy, Eisenhower and Stevenson all dump into Soldier Field, but in Arlington Heights it would just be Route 53, a few main surface roads and neighborhood streets – a recipe for disaster with 20,000-to-25,000 cars coming in. Much is made of the Metra stop at the track, but that is the Union Pacific Northwest line, which is fine if you’re downtown or out in northwest Lake or McHenry County, but probably only convenient to maybe 20% or so of all Bears fans.
2. With severe budget problems already facing Chicago and the worst likely still to come in the loss of tenants and customers from commercial real estate and office buildings as the new post-pandemic order evolves, the loss of restaurant, bar, parking and hotel revenue, and damages to image and prestige could be devastating.
3. No offense, Arlington Heights, but unless you’re from there where would you prefer to go enjoy spending your entertainment dollars, at a near northwest suburb or one of the biggest cities and most beautiful downtown areas in the world?
We can all agree Chicago should have one of the best sports entertainment complexes in the world.
But it seems fairly evident the Arlington Heights location might tremendously benefit the locals and the McCaskeys, who by the way are all originally Des Plaines natives from not too far up the road, while the great majority of Chicagoans would be better served by getting it done and doing it right in the city.