‘Impressive’ Soldier Field plans wouldn’t give Bears stadium ownership, Mayor Hayes says

A large majority of Arlington Heights voters want to see a new Chicago Bears stadium on the Arlington Park property -- as long as their tax dollars aren't helping to foot the bill. Those are the findings of a new poll released Tuesday. (Daily Herald File Photo, 2020)

Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes called plans to transform Soldier Field with a dome and surrounding commercial and entertainment campus “impressive,” but he said the proposal doesn’t change why the Chicago Bears are considering redevelopment of Arlington Park.

“Certainly, it’s a very impressive-looking video,” Hayes said of stadium developer Bob Dunn’s vision for the lakefront stadium released Sunday at reimaginesoldierfield.com.

“But it really doesn’t solve the Bears’ problem in terms of ownership of their own stadium,” Hayes said Monday. “As they’ve said all along, they’re not looking just to put a dome on Soldier Field. They’re looking to improve their franchise and the value of their franchise by owning their own stadium and having control over what they do on and around the property.”

“So though it looks really nice and I would be doing the same thing if I was Mayor (Lori) Lightfoot in trying to retain a business like that, I don’t think it has a whole lot of impact in terms of the Bears’ focus on redevelopment of Arlington Park.”

Hayes said the NFL franchise is weeks away from a scheduled closing on its $197.2 million purchase of the 326-acre shuttered racetrack from Churchill Downs Inc.

It’s because of that pending contract that Bears team officials have said they’re not pursuing alternative stadium deals or sites, including renovations to Soldier Field.

On Monday, a team spokesman reiterated that the only potential project the club is exploring for a new stadium development is at Arlington Park.

Dunn, who helped develop new or renovated NFL stadiums in Minneapolis, Detroit and Green Bay, released more details about his proposed Soldier Field transformation on Sunday. Initial plans by his firm, Landmark Development, were announced in July after Lightfoot brought him in as part of her pitch to keep the Bears in the city.

Dunn has estimated that his proposal would save the Bears at least $1 billion over the cost of starting from scratch in Arlington Heights -- a stadium and adjoining mixed-use district that could cost $5 billion.

Hayes said the ambitious plans to remake Soldier Field are conceptually similar to what the Bears envision at Arlington Park. But the key difference is ownership, since the team currently leases Soldier Field from the Chicago Park District and shares revenues with the city.

“They’re hoping to do essentially the same thing at Arlington Park,” Hayes said of redevelopment, “with the benefit of owning their own stadium and having control over the ancillary uses.”