Critical Vote Expected Monday in Chicago Bears' Proposed Move to Arlington Heights

Critical Vote Expected Monday in Chicago Bears' Proposed Move to Arlington Heights

As the Chicago Bears’ inch closer to moving from Soldier Field to suburban Arlington Heights, a critical vote about the team’s proposed new stadium is expected to take place Monday among Arlington Heights trustees during a Village Board Meeting.

According to reports, village trustees are scheduled to meet Monday night to consider a petition that would prohibit public money from going towards a Chicago Bears stadium development at the site of the former Arlington Racetrack.

The petition, initiated earlier this summer from libertarian group Americans for Prosperity, is an attempt to halt financial incentives for new businesses moving to Arlington Heights — which would include the Chicago Bears. In order for the proposal to be considered by the board, it needed to obtain signatures from 10 percent of registered village voters.

If accepted by Arlington Heights trustees, the measure would then be put on the ballot as a referendum for local voters.

However, reporting from the Chicago Tribune states that while the petition did receive the necessary amount of signatures in order to move forward, trustees on Monday are expected to reject it.

“We don’t think it’s something that’s in the best interest of the village,” Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes said earlier this summer. “If something like this is enacted, then all those businesses are going elsewhere, and how will that benefit our residents?”

However, Hayes also said that residents and village board members are concerned “in terms of what our financial commitment might be to the development of this property.”

“Our ultimate goal is to make sure that it’s a win-win for both the Bears and the Village of Arlington Heights so, you know, we’re not going to do anything that’s going to bankrupt our village or our residents.”

The board meeting is expected to take place at 7:30 p.m. Monday. If the board does reject the proposal, the Tribune reports, sponsors do have a backup plan: they may try to gather signatures from an additional 12 percent of voters, an effort that could move the proposal onto the ballot without trustee approval.

How Much Would a New Bears Stadium Cost?

The Chicago Bears, the sixth most valuable franchise in the NFL, are currently in are in escrow for the former Arlington Racetrack site, for which they signed a $197.2 million purchase agreement last year.

The Bears have pitched the move as a win for everyone, saying the development will generate $1.4 billion in annual economic impact, including $51 million in tax revenue for Illinois each year. When reached for comment, a spokesman for the Bears declined to share more specifics on their methodology and how they reached those projections. Hayes said the team has also not shared that information with the village, which plans to do its own analysis on the potential development’s economic impact.

But University of Chicago Professor Allen Sanderson, an expert in sports economics, casts doubt on the Bears’ figures.

“Take any estimate a team or a chamber of commerce gives you as to how much this is going to be worth… Take whatever number they give you and move the decimal point one to the left. And you’re probably pretty close,” Sanderson said.

Sanderson was part of Chicago’s working group to revitalize the Museum Campus. He said no matter where you put them, stadiums carry a lot of risk – and little financial upside.

“The two things you do not want to build on a valuable piece of real estate are a cemetery and a football stadium,” he continued. “Those two things are just economic losers.”

Sanderson said part of the reason is that football stadiums have a low occupancy rate and are vying against one another to host a limited number of events.

“There’s only going to be approximately one Super Bowl a year. There’s only approximately going to be one NCAA championship,” he said. “It’s not like the NCAA is going to play twice as many games just because you’ve got another stadium. So you’re still going to have to compete with everybody else in the country for that.”

Another challenge? The way fans engage with the game has changed as technology has improved, Sanderson said.

“The NFL is painfully aware of the fact that going to a football game is just less attractive than it used to be,” he said. “You’ve got an 80-inch color flat screen television with just unbelievable technology involved in it so that watching football game at home becomes a much more attractive option.”

The Raiders’ new stadium in Las Vegas cost roughly $2 billion, while the Rams’ stadium in Los Angeles cost about $5 billion, experts estimate. The Bears say they won’t ask for tax dollars to build the stadium itself but they do want public funding for infrastructure and other parts of the development.

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