New Bears stadium on Chicago lakefront now the priority, says Kevin Warren

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New Bears stadium on Chicago lakefront now the priority, says Kevin Warren

ORLANDO, Fla. — Bears president and CEO Kevin Warren made one thing very clear Tuesday morning at the NFL owners’ meetings: building a new stadium in Chicago on the lakefront is now the priority for the team — not Arlington Park.

“The plan will be to put a shovel in the ground on the lakefront,” Warren said.

He said a plan, including renderings and video, will be released in the near future.

Despite the Bears’ $197.2 million purchase of a 326-acre plot of land in suburban Arlington Heights, Warren said the team is focused on bringing a state-of-the-art stadium to Chicago. It would be located on the Waldron Deck and south parking lot land. Soldier Field would be demolished, except for the collonades, creating more green space on the Museum Campus.

“I strongly believe that we’re building momentum to that museum area,” he said.

“It will set this city up for greatness for the next 100 years,” he said. “If you go back and look at the Daniel Burnham plan from 1932, you’re talking about a vision. He set the vision for the World’s Fair. And everything is in place. I think the area at the museum campus is the most beautiful piece of property in the country that we’ll be able to build a campus together with the museums, with the stadium, with the lake, with the downtown on the backdrop, and to be able to enjoy Chicago like we should be able to enjoy Chicago.”

Bears chairman George McCaskey echoed Warren later in the day.

“We want what’s best for Bears fans and what’s best for the community,” McCaskey said. “And if that can be done on the museum campus, we’d be thrilled.

“That area is a jewel of our great city. But it needs better access. And this is an opportunity to provide that and bring out all that the Museum Campus has to offer. And I think if we do it right, it will be great for the museums, great for Bears fans, great for the people of the city of Chicago and great for the region.”

Warren played a major role in helping the Vikings build U.S. Bank Stadium, a domed venue considered one of the best in the NFL. He envisions something similar for the Bears.

“We have a unique opportunity to build a world-class, fixed-roof stadium,” he said, “To bid for the Super Bowl, to bid for the Final Four, to bid for college events, to bid for concert events, and then all the other mega events that come into town and the economic impact that this will have on our city because all the other infrastructure is in place.”

In September 2021, the Bears signed a purchase agreement for the Arlington Park racecourse property. The idea was to build a stadium and create a “mixed-use” area full of restaurants, bars and hotels that provide the franchise with more revenue. The deal was finalized in February 2023 and the old horse-racing track was demolished.

But the team has turned its attention back to Chicago as arguments with three school districts over real estate taxes for the Arlington Park land have stalled the suburban project. The Cook County Board of Review recently appraised the land at $125 million. The Bears have argued it should be valued at $60 million. An appeal by the Bears is likely.

“We are the largest landowner in Arlington Heights right now: 326 acres,” Warren said. “We own a beautiful piece of land. And I have great respect for Mayor (Thomas) Hayes and Randy Recklaus and all of the politicians there. My belief right now, these projects are incredibly difficult. And just learning the various things that I did in Minnesota, you have to be laser-focused. And right now, we’re putting our energy to downtown Chicago, to the museum campus, just from an energy and resource standpoint. So we still own the land. We’re the largest landowner. We’ll stay in communication with Arlington Heights, but the focus now has to be on Chicago to give us the best opportunity for success.”

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(Photo: Adam Jahns / The Athletic)