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Bears signal possibly exploring options beyond Arlington Heights for new stadium

Are Bears having second thoughts about stadium plan in Arlington Heights?
Are Bears having second thoughts about stadium plan in Arlington Heights? 02:29

CHICAGO (CBS) – The Chicago Bears officials said they could be exploring other location options for a new stadium beyond Arlington Heights, citing property tax concerns.

The team said in a statement on Friday that its goal of "the largest single development project in Illinois history" is at risk in Arlington Heights, where the team purchased former Arlington International Racecourse property. The Bears officially closed on its purchase of the site earlier this year.

The Bears said while the project is "broadly popular" in the northwest suburban community, the assessment on the property it purchased is "five times the 2021 tax value." The previous owner paid taxes based on a value of about $33 million, but the Cook County Assessor's Office said this year, as part of its regular reassessment, that the site is worth about $197 million.

The team said the assessment "fails to reflect the property is not operational and not commercially viable in its current state." The team already started interior demolition at the site last month, which it said on Friday will continue.

While the Bears said they will "work toward a path forward in Arlington Heights, but it is no longer our singular focus. It is our responsibility to listen to other municipalities in Chicagoland about potential locations that can deliver on this transformational opportunity for our fans, our club and the State of Illinois."

Officials confirmed Naperville Mayor Scott Wehrli reached out to the Bears last week to highlight the city's benefits for potentially hosting the team's next stadium. Naperville officials also confirmed Wehrli met with team officials on Friday.

In a letter to Bears President and CEO Kevin Warren, Wehrli said, "As a lifelong Bears fan, I respect that the team has decided that developing and operating its own stadium is essential for on-field success and pursuing championships."

Wehrli talked up Naperville's access to the region's major interstates and rail transportation, including two Metra stations. He said Naperville being the next home of the Bears "would unlock tremendous economic benefits for our community."

In response to news of the Bears looking to other options, Arlington Heights officials said in a statement they "always expected that the club would explore any and all viable locations as part of their due diligence process." Still, they said the former racecourse still offers a "unique" location for a new stadium with easy access to O'Hare International Airport, Interstate 90, Route 53 and a dedicated Metra station.

Warren, who took over leading the Bears organization earlier this year, previously said he was going to be focused on building a new stadium at the former Arlington Park Racecourse site.

CBS 2's De Mar asked Arlington Heights Mayor Thomas Hayes how concerned he was about politics possibly blowing up the whole deal.

"I would discourage politics, although I understand it's a political reality," Hayes said.

Hayes said he is not surprised the team is meeting with other communities.

"If I were the Bears, I'd be talking to other parties to explore the best options," he said.

Mayor Hayes refrained from speculating on the Bears' motives.

De Mar: "How much of this do you see as politics; posturing to get what the Bears ultimately want?"

Hayes: "I'm really not going to comment on that. The Bears can comment on that in terms of their intentions and their motivations."

Tim McBride is a professor of sports management at Lewis University, and lives in Arlington Heights.

"I'm a bit surprised that they chose to make it so public at this point," McBride said. "One of the levers that they're choosing to pull is opening conversations up with other communities."

Chicago Bears say plan to build new stadium in Arlington Heights is in jeopardy 00:36

Many Arlington Heights residents have expressed their own concern about the Bears moving to town, as some worry how a new stadium could change their quiet neighborhoods. Others have proposed barring the use of any taxpayer money to fund construction of a new stadium, a method used to build other multi-million dollar professional sports facilities across the country.

In a joint statement, local school districts 15, 211 and 214 said while they are "fully supportive of the Chicago Bears and their potential move to Arlington Heights," they "understand that they need to do what is in the best interest of their business and their ownership, while we need to focus on what is in the best interests of our students and local taxpayers."

The districts added, "We take the Bears at their word when they say they want to pay their fair share in property taxes. We look forward to seeing the 2023 assessment for the site when it is released by the County Assessor later this year. As we have done with Churchill Downs and the 2022 assessment, we are confident we can reach agreement with the Bears on a market-oriented 2023 assessment that factors in the recent arm's-length sale of the property and the anticipated future development."

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