The Chicago Bears have called an audible on their plans to build a new stadium in suburban Arlington Heights, Ill., opting instead to invest more than $2 billion into a publicly-owned domed facility just south of Soldier Field, the team’s existing home in downtown Chicago.

Until the surprise March 11 announcement, the team appeared to be driving toward developing a new stadium at the 326-acre Arlington International Racecourse site, which it purchased for $197 million in early 2023 and began demolition of existing structures. 

A subsequent sixfold increase in the property’s value by the Cook County Assessor’s Office sparked a dispute between the team and local school districts, which are funded by property tax revenue. The Bears reportedly insisted on receiving property tax “certainty” before it would move forward with any development plans. 

Even as negotiations with Arlington Heights officials on the simmering property tax issue continued through the year, the team held discussions with several other area municipalities on potential stadium development opportunities. One option reportedly off the table was staying at century-old Soldier Field, one of the National Football League’s oldest and smallest stadiums, with a gameday capacity of 61,500 following a 2003 renovation. 

The March 11 announcement suggests that the Bears found their best opportunity literally next door. 

In a statement, Bears president and CEO Kevin Warren said that the future stadium “will bring a transformative opportunity to our region -- boosting the economy, creating jobs, facilitating mega events and generating millions in tax revenue. We look forward to sharing more information when our plans are finalized.” 

Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson said in a statement that he supports the new proposal. 

"I have said all along that meaningful private investment and a strong emphasis on public benefit are my requirements for public-private partnerships in our city," he said. "The Chicago Bears' plans are a welcome step in that direction and a testament to Chicago's economic vitality." 

Johnson said he looks forward to talks with the Bears, state leadership and community stakeholders about the potential for a domed stadium in the city.  

The Bears and the city have yet to disclose details about the stadium, its development timeline and overall funding strategy. Until the new stadium is completed, the team will likely remain at Soldier Field where its $6-million-a-year lease at expires in 2033. Published news stories suggest that afterward, most of Soldier Field will be demolished, with its distinctive colonnades serving as a backdrop to a new public park with athletic fields and other amenities.

Despite those promises, Friends of the Park, a local preservation group dedicated to protecting Chicago's Lakefront and other city-owned land adjacent to Lake Michigan, criticized the Bears’ attempt to rush the downtown stadium construction plan to reality when questions regarding the amount and conditions of public investment remain unanswered. 

The group, which also successfully blocked film director George Lucas from building a lakefront museum, noted in a statement that the Bears’ plan omits not only the possibility of other favorable development sites both within and outside Chicago’s city limits, but also its longstanding desire to develop an entertainment district in conjunction with the stadium.

“What new entertainment district are they imagining for the lakefront,” the statement asked.

The Bears’ announcement did not mention what might become of the Arlington Heights property if the lakefront stadium plan moves forward. Local officials insist that while a new stadium was never considered a “done deal,” they would continue to work with the team to resolve differences with the school districts. Alternative development strategies have not been ruled out.

“The property remains a major asset to the community and region, and it has tremendous potential,” Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes said.

A rendering of the proposed domed stadium has not yet been released nor has a design team been hired.