NAPERVILLE, Ill. - The city of Naperville is launching its own bid to try to lure the Chicago Bears to the sprawling western suburb — with the team on Friday admitting a stadium in Arlington Heights is no longer its "singular focus."
The new competing proposal comes as talks with Arlington Heights have stalled amid disagreements between the team and surrounding suburbs about taxing and school districts.
Naperville Mayor Scott Wehrli on May 24 sent the Bears a letter, asking the team to meet and discuss available properties in the west suburb, according to a copy of the letter provided to the Sun-Times by the city of Naperville.
The Bears met with Wehrli in Naperville on Friday — and the team is open to entertaining proposals outside of the Arlington Heights site.
Bears spokesman Scott Hagel on Friday said the Arlington Heights stadium is "at risk," citing the property’s tax assessment and a recent settlement with Churchill Downs, which they believe "fails to reflect the property is not operational and not commercially viable in its current state."
"We will continue the ongoing demolition activity and work toward a path forward in Arlington Heights, but it is no longer our singular focus," Hagel said in a statement. "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."
Naperville spokeswoman Linda LaCloche said Wehrli reached out to the Bears last week "to introduce Naperville as a thriving community with multiple opportunities for business investment."
Illinois’ fourth largest city, Naperville is about 30 miles west of Chicago and had a population of 149,540, according to the 2020 Census.
Touchdown Arlington, described as a grassroots business coalition, blamed "political foot dragging" for the potential loss of the site — while urging legislators and school board members to to go back to the table with the Bears to seal a deal. The group also acknowledged Naperville isn’t the only community interested in recruiting the Bears.
"Losing this opportunity due to politics will be a devastating and unforgivable loss for our community, and we urge local officials to swiftly reignite negotiations to make this development a reality," the group said in a statement. "Every local and state elected official and business and civic leader should get in the huddle with the Bears."
The Bears earlier this year closed on a $197 million deal to buy the Arlington International Racecourse from Churchill Downs. But the team was unable to clinch a deal with lawmakers during the spring legislative session to try to get tax help for the new stadium.
The Bears in January said "property tax certainty is necessary for the Arlington Park project to move forward." A new stadium alone in Arlington Heights is estimated to cost at least $2.5 billion.
A plan that popped up in the waning days of session would freeze a property tax assessment for up to 40 years for the Arlington Heights stadium and create a $3 admission tax on all events held at the stadium, not just football games.
An oversight board was also added to the proposal, sponsored by state Rep. Marty Moylan, D-Des Plaines, which would consist of municipal, school and park district officials from Arlington Heights and surrounding communities. As an agreement with the Bears for the property tax freeze, the team would pay an annual amount to Arlington Heights to be shared with other local taxing districts.
Revenue generated at the new stadium, including from state sales tax, hotel and liquor taxes and a new 3% surcharge on sports betting revenue, would be split to help surrounding communities pay for infrastructure, according to Moylan’s latest proposal.