What Bears envision for $5 billion 'magic' makeover at Arlington Park
While the Bears kick off the season at noon Sunday at Soldier Field -- the team's home for more than a half-century -- it could be another decade until their first snap at Arlington Park, amid the planning, regulatory approvals and financing needed to make the ambitious $5 billion project a reality.
And while there's much interest in the team's envisioned stadium in the suburbs, top team officials so far have offered only scant details about it:
• It'll have more seats than the lowest-in-the-league 61,500 at Soldier Field.
• It'll be enclosed with a dome sufficient to host the Super Bowl, college football playoffs and the college basketball Final Four.
• And there will be more room for parking and tailgating -- a declaration that drew applause from a generally friendly crowd, some wearing Bears gear, during the team's community meeting last Thursday at John Hersey High School in Arlington Heights.
"We don't have a facility like that now," President/CEO Ted Phillips told the crowd of hundreds in the school gym. "It will be designed to provide our fans with a first-class experience."
Phillips was interrupted with applause a few times during his introductory remarks.
"I've never had so many claps in my life. I think I'll just stop right there," the Bears executive joked.
But Phillips, accompanied by franchise Chairman George McCaskey and their team of experts, spent the next two hours outlining almost everything else about the club's long-term vision for the sprawling 326-acre site they have under contract with Churchill Downs Inc.
While the stadium and parking lots would be on a 120-acre northwest portion of the site near Route 53 and Northwest Highway, an adjoining transit-oriented, mixed-use district would be built on the 206 acres to the south and east, near Euclid and Wilke roads and up to the existing Arlington Park Metra station. It could include restaurants, stores, offices, a hotel, a performance venue, a fitness center, townhouses and multifamily housing, parks and open spaces.
And it's that portion of the redevelopment that Bears brass are touting to the public and their elected representatives in hopes of securing public funding.
About the ask
McCaskey and Phillips reiterated that the cost of stadium construction would be privately financed but, in McCaskey's words, they "will need help" for the rest of the project.
"The vast majority of stadiums built in the last 20 to 25 years that house NFL teams have been public-private partnerships," McCaskey said. "This particular project is unlike any of the sole stadium projects, in that stadium anchors transit-oriented district and transit-oriented district enhances the stadium use. They're intertwined. It would be a tremendous benefit to the village, the region and the state."
Phillips added, the team's ask for public money would be for site infrastructure costs -- roads, sewers, stormwater and utilities -- and not to construct either the stadium or buildings within the mixed-use development. He said those exact costs are yet unknown.
"We aren't trying to play any kind of games to have buildings constructed with public dollars," he said.
When asked by an audience member if tax increment financing -- property taxes above a certain level going into development rather than local governments -- could be part of the equation, Phillips said the team still is in the preliminary phases of looking at all possible financing options.
McCaskey added, nothing in the Bears' project is predicated on an increase in local property taxes, though he acknowledged village officials may raise them for other reasons.
What's in the plans
Architects and designers from Hart Howerton, the master planning agency the Bears have retained, described their vision for the shuttered racetrack site as a "gateway for Chicagoland," with the stadium opening to an eastern central lawn and accessed by two pedestrian bridges. Artist renderings show the Chicago skyline in the distance.
On either side of the central green could be a hotel, a civic/performance venue and residences. Residential buildings would transition from higher-density, multifamily properties of four to eight stories closer to the train station, to lower-density townhouses and multifamily units of two to four stories moving south and east through the site, according to Nicole Emmons, one of the planners.
For inspiration, the master planners reviewed two other former racetrack sites that were transformed: the former Bay Meadows in San Mateo, California, that became a 93-acre mixed-use development along a transit line, and the former Hollywood Park in Inglewood, California, now home to SoFi Stadium, which hosted this year's Super Bowl and will host the 2028 Summer Olympics.
But they said their bigger inspiration was Daniel Burnham's iconic 1909 Plan of Chicago and how infrastructure was interwoven with open space.
"We hope (the Bears plan) pays some homage to the thinkers that preceded us here in Chicago, perhaps echoes of the Midway, and we hope that these plans are no small plans and that they have magic in them," said planner Paul Milana.
Handling the traffic
Peter Lemmon, a transportation engineer with Bears consultant Kimley-Horn and Associates, said there would be 10 total access points to the property and four traffic signals outside -- some new and some current.
For drivers exiting Route 53 at Northwest Highway, plans call for two new underpasses that would go below the street and railroad tracks, and connect with Commuter Drive and the stadium parking lots.
For those getting off at northbound Euclid, engineers want improvements to the shoulders so that drivers will be able to use two lanes on gamedays.
They also want to bring back a pedestrian underpass at the train station or create a grade-separated crossing so fans don't have to walk across the tracks.
While Thursday's meeting was conducted by the Bears, the Arlington Heights village board's committee of the whole meeting Monday night will include a discussion of the Bears' preliminary plans.
Village staff will present an overview of their discussions with the team and outline next steps. The board is not expected to take any action, and Bears representatives will not be there, officials said.
The meeting is set for 7 p.m. at the Forest View Educational Center theater, 2121 S. Goebbert Road. Attendees should enter through door No. 34.