Chairman George McCaskey was careful Monday to note the Chicago Bears still are in the exploratory phase of their potential purchase of the former Arlington International Racecourse property.
But he also called the possible new stadium site in Arlington Heights an “outstanding, long-term proposition with high potential for the Bears.”
During a video news conference to discuss the search for a new general manager and coach, McCaskey and President and CEO Ted Phillips made their first public comments about the project since the Bears signed a $197.2 million purchase agreement for the property in September, signaling a potential move from their longtime home at Soldier Field.
Phillips called the 326-acre Arlington site an “extremely unique property” and said the Bears’ vision is “an entertainment destination with multiple facets to it that I think could really help put Arlington Heights on the map as a destination spot.”
“There’s nothing else like it in Chicagoland,” he said. “So the opportunities — we haven’t even begun to envision what it could be. But we’re hopeful that if we close, that we’ll be moving forward with turning it into a wonderful destination site.”
He then added a note of caution.
“We don’t close on the land, then all that vision won’t come to fruition,” he said.
After the Bears complete their GM and coach search, Phillips, who has been in his role for 23 years, will shift his responsibilities to turn much of his attention to the Arlington project. The next GM will report to McCaskey instead of Phillips, to whom former GM Ryan Pace reported.
The Bears also are adding staffing and hiring outside vendors to help with the exploration of the property.
McCaskey drew comparisons to buying a house.
“On a property of this size, that time between under contract and closing is vastly expanded,” he said. “So there’s a lot of due diligence that needs to be performed before we can close.”
The Bears expect closing to take the rest of 2022 and potentially into the first quarter of 2023, Phillips said.
“At that point in time, we’ll decide whether it’s financially feasible to try to develop it further,” Phillips said. “And I think what’s important now is that our focus for long-term development is exclusively on that property at Arlington Park.”
McCaskey said the Bears’ involvement in making a bid on the Arlington site started when they were contacted by representatives for the seller, Churchill Downs Inc., which announced last winter it was putting the property up for sale for redevelopment.
The Bears have played at Soldier Field, which is owned by the Chicago Park District, since moving from Wrigley Field in 1971. Their lease runs through 2033.
At the time the purchase agreement was announced, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she would work to keep the team in the city.
McCaskey said the Bears last spoke with city representatives “a few weeks ago” and indicated the Bears are not closing the door on those conversations.
“In the meantime, we’re happy to engage with the city of Chicago and the Park District about present operations at Soldier Field,” McCaskey said.