It looks like the Chicago Bears are coming to the suburbs. We believe the team, and its fans, will like it here with its highways from every direction, a Metra stop right next to its new property and plenty of opportunities to grow its billion-dollar business.
And the Bears likely will find several welcoming neighbors hoping for a chance to piggyback on the team’s fortunes as it seeks to lure Super Bowls, NCAA Final Fours, college football bowl games, mega concerts and other world-wide attractions. (Hopefully, the Bears will play in one Super Bowl this century.)
The Bears last month agreed to pay Churchill Downs $197.2 million for the 326-acre Arlington International Racecourse in Arlington Heights to build a stadium and other entertainment, restaurant, hotel and retail amenities. The deal should be closed by early 2023, and development could take five to seven years.
The Arlington Heights stadium would replace Soldier Field, which many call the “Mistake on the Lake” for its nightmarish commute and poor amenities and accessibility. Soldier Field also has its limitations, having the smallest seating capacity (61,500) in the National Football League.
Bears fans deserve a world-class stadium with ample parking, restrooms and sight lines. And it’s reasonable that the team moves to where the fans are. The Chicago metropolitan market population is 9.6 million people, with 6.9 million living in the suburbs and 2.7 million in the city.
With the Bears moving to the suburbs, Chicago would still have Wrigley Field, Guaranteed Rate Field and the United Center, all widely popular destinations for major-league entertainment and tourism opportunities.
And it’s not necessary for the Bears to be based in its namesake city. Nearly a third of the NFL’s teams play in a town that’s not in the city they’re named after. The Los Angeles Chargers and Rams play in Inglewood, California. The New York Giants and Jets don’t even play in New York, but in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Washington football team is based in Landover, Maryland. The San Francisco 49ers play an hour away in Santa Clara. The Las Vegas Raiders are in Paradise, Nevada. The Dallas Cowboys play in Arlington, Texas. The Miami Dolphins play in Miami Gardens, and the Buffalo Bills are in Orchard Park.
So, Arlington Heights makes sense for the Bears, and northern Illinois. The development can likely expect a lot of support from leaders from the local and state level. That’s not something the Bears have received a lot of from the city of Chicago over the years.
There will be challenges to overcome. The Bears haven’t asked for financial support, yet. And we hope they don’t. But if they do, the ask may be from a larger region, and in the form of an entertainment or user tax on hotel room bookings, restaurant meals and retail spending. An entertainment tax would be much more palatable than a tax increase for all, which we would not support. The Bears and elected leaders must not reach too far into the taxpayers’ purse.
Infrastructure will be a major hurdle as improvement will be needed for utilities and transportation, specifically Route 53, Route 14 and Interstate 90. Metra will also need new stops and amenities.
These are questions that will need to be answered in the next few years, and we have time to ponder each one.
But today, the Bears’ impending move to Arlington Heights appears to have few immediate negative impacts, and a lot of opportunities to ponder.