Bears set to take flight from Soldier Field



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Chicago Bears hire architect to conduct stadium plans Image: Chicago Bears

The National Football League (NFL) team Chicago Bears have hired an architecture firm and consultants to help them draw up plans for a new stadium in Arlington Heights in Illinois, US, sending the latest signal that the team is serious about bolting from their present digs – Soldier Field – in favor of the suburbs.

The ‘Chicago Sun Times’ stated that the conceptual blueprints will be spearheaded by Manica Architecture, a Bears spokesperson said on March 17th. That’s the Kansas City firm that designed the Las Vegas Raiders’ new $2 billion home, the 65,000-capacity Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas (US), which opened in 2020.

The Chicago Bears are a professional American football team based in Chicago. The Bears compete in the National Football League (NFL) as a member club of the league’s National Football Conference North division.

The 61,500-capacity Soldier Field is a multipurpose stadium on the Near South Side of Chicago, Illinois, United States. It serves as the residence of the Chicago Bears.

The ‘Chicago Sun Times’ further stated that the Bears also retained CAA Icon, a Denver sports management consulting firm that advised the Ricketts family during their 41,649-capacity Wrigley Field (in Chicago, Illinois) renovations.

And rounding out the Bears’ Arlington Heights stadium consultation team is the Chicago commercial real estate firm Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL), which helped represent team ownership during Soldier Field’s 2003 renovation.

Bears reps declined to elaborate other than to say it’s all part of their “due diligence” process in evaluating the potential for a gleaming new suburban home at the site of the shuttered Arlington International Racecourse.

Last Fall, the team agreed to pay $197.2 million to buy the 326-acre site from Churchill Downs Inc., but the sale isn’t expected to close for perhaps another year – sometime in the first half of 2023, Churchill Downs CEO Bill Carstanjen said during a quarterly earnings conference earlier this year.

The sale hinges on planning and zoning approvals from Arlington Heights village officials, who are working closely with the team “to make it happen as quickly and smoothly as possible,” Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes said.

Added Hayes, “We’re moving full steam ahead and trying to help in any way we can to make this a reality.”

And while the Mayor of Chicago, Lori Lightfoot, has said she wants to negotiate with Bears brass to keep the team on the lakefront, she has almost sounded resigned to Soldier Field losing its biggest tenant. Last month, the Mayor convened a working group of prominent Chicagoans to help “reimagine” the Museum Campus with or without the team.

The Museum Campus is a 57-acre (23 ha) park in Chicago (US) that sits alongside Lake Michigan in Grant Park and encompasses five of the City’s most notable attractions: The Adler Planetarium, America’s first planetarium, the Shedd Aquarium, the Field Museum of Natural History, Soldier Field, home of the NFL Chicago Bears football team, and the Lakeside Center of McCormick Place. The Museum Campus sits adjacent to Northerly Island along the waterfront.

The Bears’ lease at the aging lakeside stadium runs through 2033, but the organization can break it by paying a fee of close to $90 million if they decide to skip town in 2026 – a rough timeline of when a new suburban stadium could be ready.

How to come up with more than a billion more dollars to finance a stadium is another question.

Governor J.B. Pritzker and other public officials were quick to dismiss the notion of throwing public dollars at a stadium project, especially as Chicago taxpayers continue to foot the bill from the 2003 renovation. But the team could very well cover the massive bill through a combination of loans from the NFL, seat licensing deals and new ownership investments.

At a January news conference, Bears President Ted Phillips gushed at the prospect of breaking ground at Arlington Park, saying, “There was nothing like it in Chicagoland” and that a stadium project would “put Arlington Heights on the map as a destination spot”. Team Chairman George McCaskey was more reserved, declining to rule out the possibility of negotiating to stay downtown.

Industry experts have insisted the team has to build from the ground up for a massive new stadium to maximize profits in the modern NFL.

“For an NFL building it means a lot more than designing it for NFL games,” David Manica said in February, before his firm was announced as a partner with the Bears.

Added Manica, “It has to be multipurpose and serve a lot of different uses for the City and the owners of the building. These are some of the most complicated structures that any City can endeavor to build. They’re also the buildings that bring people the most joy. … They become icons and hallmarks for the City. There’s an incredible amount of pride and joy wrapped up in these buildings.”

Manica’s firm also designed the National Basketball Association (NBA) team Golden State Warriors’ new stadium in San Francisco – the 18,064-capacity Chase Center arena.

The National Football League (NFL) is a professional American football league that consists of 32 teams, divided equally between the American Football Conference and the National Football Conference.

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