A suburban mayor hopes the Chicago Bears’ search for a new stadium goes south.
Richton Park Mayor Rick Reinbold invited team president and CEO Kevin Warren last week to consider “a vibrant and diverse suburban community” as a potential destination instead of Arlington Heights, where the Bears have complained that high property taxes could hinder their efforts to build a dome at the former Arlington International Speedway.
Driving 32 miles from Soldier Field via Interstate 57, Reinbold placed the team in his village close to major highways and Metra Electric lines, as well as its position “among the affluent middle and upper classes of the southern and southwest suburbs.”
“Richton Park, and the neighboring communities of Frankfort, Matteson, and Olympia Fields, have a combined average household income of $98,000 per year, far above the $81,000 mark in the area,” Reinbold wrote in his July 21 letter, which was published Tuesday. “It leads to Richton Park which is in the center of an affluent commercial area as well.”
Richton Park is the fourth suburb to publicly trial the Bears since the team said in June that high property tax assessments on a $197 million 326-acre parcel they purchased in Arlington Heights jeopardized their vision for a $5 billion multi-purpose stadium district in the northwestern suburb. The mayors of Naperville, Waukegan and Aurora have all thrown their helmets into the ring since then.
Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson has spoken to Warren about keeping the team within city limits but has not offered any specifics about how – or where – he will persuade them to stay. The team is leased out at Soldier Field until 2033 but could breach that agreement at a fraction of the cost of multi-billion-dollar stadium projects.
Fans cheer as fireworks explode over The Star-Spangled Banner at Soldier Field before the Chicago Bears take on the Washington Commanders in October 2022.
A Bears spokesman declined to comment on the Richton Park opening, reiterating “the team’s responsibility to listen to other cities in Chicagoland about potential locations that could provide this transformational opportunity for our fans, our club, and the state of Illinois.”
The team has repeatedly threatened to relocate since they first called Soldier Field home in 1971. This time, however, the team has made it clear that they want to move out of the NFL’s smallest Soldier Field and become the big, glittering dome they are head-to-head with.
Arlington Park’s purchase marks the first time they’ve put their money into their relocation destination, while Warren was named CEO earlier this year due largely to his experience landing the new stadium as an executive with the Minnesota Vikings.
Aerial view of the former Arlington International Raceway in Arlington Heights in July.
Brian Ernst/Sun-Times file
Reinbold said by phone Tuesday that he hasn’t heard back from the team, but he believes Warren will recognize a “tremendous opportunity” in the 1,000-plus acres of greenery that Richton Park has on west of I-57.
As for whether the team can avoid a property tax standoff with local school districts — such as the one that denied any respite for the Bears in Arlington Heights — Reinbold says he thinks “in the south, we’re certainly willing, in general, to talk and work with the best developers we can.”
“We speak business language here at Richton Park,” he said. “We are willing to negotiate any and all incentives necessary to close the deal.”