Bears’ focus remains on Arlington Heights regardless of mayoral outcome

Bears president/CEO Kevin Warren will start April 17.

Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images

PHOENIX — The Bears remain focused on building a stadium in Arlington Heights regardless of whether Brandon Johnson or Paul Vallas is elected mayor of Chicago in next month’s runoff, incoming president/CEO Kevin Warren said Monday at the NFL’s annual meetings.

“I live downtown in Chicago, so I look forward to meeting the new mayor,” he said, “but [we’re] continuing to focus on Arlington Park.”

When the Bears closed escrow on the 326-acre former home of Arlington International Racecourse on Feb. 15, they said in a letter to fans that the sale was no guarantee the land would be developed. They stressed it was their intention to do so, though, even as outgoing mayor Lori Lightfoot continued to stump for retrofitting Soldier Field.

When the Bears were in escrow, they were not allowed, per the terms of the agreement, to publicly discuss the possibility of playing elsewhere. That limitation no longer applies. Still, Warren said that the team’s focus remains on building a stadium – in addition to hotels, shops, restaurants and more — in Arlington Heights.

“We purchased the land,” he said. “And that’s one of things I’m looking forward to, to go to work on that. That was a big step I mean, it showed our commitment to doing the right thing, especially solving a stadium solution.”

The Bears hired Warren to do just that. He was the Vikings’ COO when they built U.S. Bank Stadium, which the Bears consider one of the gems of the NFL. Warren was named the Bears’ new president/CEO in January but won’t start work until April 17, when his duties as Big Ten commissioner are completed.

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Until then, he’s trying to study up.

“The key — as I have always tried to pride my life on — is to be really thorough, thoughtful, regimented, diligent and just methodical,” he said. “And so I know there’s a lot of information they’ve prepared for me to start reading. And that’s the thing that I love about this opportunity is to be able to go back to the books and to learn and to grow.”

The Bears said in their letter they will not seek taxpayer money to pay for the construction of the stadium itself, but they would need to have “property tax certainty” and “support for infrastructure commensurate with the public benefits the project will yield.” The team wants public funds for roads and water drainage, among other things.

Negotiating those issues — and many more — will take months, though Warren wouldn’t commit to a timeline for the next step.

“Everyone has the same type of concerns – what does it do to their tax base, what does it do to traffic, and all those different things,” he said. “And that’s why, just like we did in Minnesota, I’m always a big believer – this can’t be about, ‘It’s about us’ only and ‘We have to win.’ It has to be collectively.”

In general, he said, it takes about three years from the moment construction begins on a stadium until it’s completed. The Bears have a long way to go just to get to that point.

“The key is when you put the shovel in the ground,” he said. “Because now you have to get all the legislation done, work through all the political elements, design the stadium, make sure it comes to life. So that’s really what the timetable becomes. …

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“It feels right, but now is really where the work begins. But we’re going to have to work together at multiple levels to make this become a reality.”

It will take time.

“There are so many things I learned, but one of the things is you need to remain calm — that it’s a journey,” he said. “This is not something that you get done in a weekend. And you have to be patient. You have to be creative. You have to create solutions that there’s a win-win-win for everyone involved.”

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