Prior to Monday, it had been 363 days since Bears chairman George McCaskey or president and CEO Ted Phillips had spoken publicly and answered questions from the media.
Much had transpired in nearly a year since their last news conference Jan. 13, 2020. The Bears brought in two new quarterbacks, including rookie first-round draft pick Justin Fields. The organization bid for and earned the rights to buy a huge plot of land in Arlington Heights. The team bottomed out during the 2021 season, finishing 6-11, but only after winning two of its final three games. And, ultimately, the Bears fired head coach Matt Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace.
In all that time, McCaskey and Phillips avoided answering any questions about their team. They never once had to discuss their intentions with the land in Arlington Heights.
McCaskey’s and Phillips’ comments Monday about the developments in Arlington Heights were overshadowed by their discussions regarding the football team. But what happens in Arlington Heights over the coming months and years will transcend any coach or GM hirings they make in the immediate future.
The team hasn’t purchased the 326-acre Arlington Park property yet, but it’s well on its way to doing so. Arlington Park owner Churchill Downs Inc. and the Bears announced their agreement to the property’s sale for $197.2 million in September, but there remain T’s to cross and I’s to dot.
McCaskey on Monday confirmed that Phillips is in charge of the project for the Bears.
“Anybody who has bought a house or a lot to build a house [knows], there’s a time between when the property is under contract and closing,” McCaskey said. “During that time, there are a number of things that need to be done in terms of due diligence: making sure that there’s clear title to the house or lot, if it’s a lot, determining whether it’s a buildable lot and so forth, a lot of regulations that need to be checked out. Well, on a property of this size, that time between under contract and closing is vastly expanded.”
McCaskey made a point to clarify that individuals representing Churchill Downs contacted the Bears to see if they would be interested. The Bears did not seek out the property, he said.
McCaskey called the opportunity “an outstanding, long-term proposition with high potential for the Bears.”
The Bears are under contract to play at Soldier Field in Chicago through 2033. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot had strong words for the Bears last summer when news spread that the Bears had bid on the Arlington Heights land. McCaskey said Monday that the team is happy to engage with the city of Chicago about the “present operations at Soldier Field.”
Asked numerous times about the Arlington Heights land, McCaskey noted that it’s “premature” to say much at this point. He did confirm that the team is “exploring the viability of building a football stadium on that property.”
Phillips added that the earliest a deal might close is late 2022 or during the first few months of 2023.
“At that point in time we’ll decide whether it’s financially feasible to try to develop it further,” Phillips said. “And I think what’s important now is that our focus for long-term development is exclusively on that property in Arlington Park.”
There is no timetable for potentially building a stadium. Phillips noted that there is no other property like Arlington Park available in the Chicago area. He said the Bears “haven’t even begun to envision” what a stadium or the surrounding site might look like.