As expected, a big crowd gathered Thursday night for a meeting at which Chicago Bears planned to present more information on plans to build a new enclosed stadium in Arlington Heights.
The meeting was scheduled to start at 7 p.m., and before the doors opened about 5:30 p.m., a long line had stretched around the building and out to the parking lot of John Hersey High School in the northwest suburb. By 6 p.m., the 2,000-seat gymnasium was about a fifth full.
A handful of political advocates worked the line, handing out pamphlets encouraging residents to get involved in efforts to prevent public money from going into the proposed redevelopment.
The team said its “best-in-class” enclosed stadium will be worthy of hosting global events such as the Super Bowl, College Football Playoff and Final Four.
Team officials also planned to describe their concept for an adjoining entertainment district to include restaurants, office space, a hotel, fitness center, new parks and open spaces.
It’s all proposed for the 326-acre site of Arlington International Racecourse, which closed permanently to horse racing last year.
In 2021, the Bears announced a purchase agreement to buy the park from Churchill Downs Inc. The team is vetting various aspects of the preliminary deal before anticipating closing late this year or early next year.
To do so, the team would have to pay to break its lease at Soldier Field in Chicago. Mayor Lori Lightfoot has proposed topping the stadium with a $2 billion dome, but the Bears have said they are not negotiating with the city while the team is pursuing the Arlington deal.
The team’s announcement of its plans Tuesday included repeated warnings that the deal depends on meeting various requirements, such as, “If we do close on the property, it does not guarantee we will develop it.”
The Bears said they would not ask for public money to build the stadium but would seek taxpayer funding to help develop the mixed-use area.
The team projected, without yet providing documentation, that construction would have a $9 billion economic impact, with subsequent annual stimulus of 9,750 jobs and $1.4 billion annually.
Economists have frequently questioned such projections, warning that sports stadiums do not typically make a good return on investment for governmental bodies.
Americans for Prosperity-Illinois, part of a national libertarian group backed by the conservative Koch brothers, presented a petition to the village board Tuesday, seeking to prohibit public funding for the Bears or any other private development.
The group also released a poll that found a majority of Arlington Heights voters supported the Bears coming to their village but opposed using tax dollars for the move.
Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes has said taxpayer contributions to the project would be a “last resort,” but has defended incentives such as tax increment financing, or TIFs. A TIF would use increases in property tax revenues on the racetrack site to help with the property’s development.
The meeting is merely informational and the plans are still vague. The village would still hold separate public hearings to consider any specific Bears proposal.
Check back for updates.