Bears hire Manica Architecture, consultants to draw up plans for Arlington Park stadium

The Chicago Bears have hired an architectural firm and consultants to help them draw up plans for a new stadium in Arlington Heights, sending the latest signal that the team is serious about pulling Soldier Field out in favor of the suburbs.

The conceptual designs will be spearheaded by Manica Architecture, a Bears spokesman said on Thursday. This is the Kansas City company that designed the Las Vegas Raiders’ new $2 billion home, Allegiant Stadium, which opened in 2020.

The Bears also hired CAA Icon, a Denver sports management consulting firm, to advise the Ricketts family on the renovation of Wrigley Field.

Rounding out the Bears’ Arlington Heights Stadium advisory team is Chicago-based commercial real estate firm Jones Lang LaSalle, who helped represent the team’s ownership during the 2003 renovation of Soldier Field.

Representatives of the companies did not respond with a request for comment.

Bears reps declined to elaborate other than say it is all part of their “due diligence” process in evaluating the potential for a shiny new suburban home on the site of the closed Arlington International Racecourse.

Last fall, the team agreed to pay $197.2 million to purchase the 326-acre site from Churchill Downs Inc., but the sale isn’t expected to close for another year — sometime in the first half of the year 2023, Churchill Downs CEO Bill Carstanjen said during a quarterly earnings conference earlier this year.

The sale is subject to planning and zoning approvals from Arlington Heights village officials, who are working closely with the team “to make it as quick and smooth as possible,” Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes said.

Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes at Arlington International Racecourse.

Mark Welsh/Daily Herald file

“We are going full steam ahead and trying to help in any way we can to make this a reality,” Hayes said.

And while Mayor Lori Lightfoot has said she wants to negotiate with Bears Brass to keep the team on the lake shore, she’s sounded almost resigned that Soldier Field lost its largest tenant. Last month, the mayor convened a working group of prominent Chicagoans to “reinvent” the museum campus with or without the team.

The Bears’ lease on the aging lakeside stadium runs through 2033, but the organization can break it by paying a nearly $90 million fee if they decide to skip the city in 2026 — an approximate timeline , when a new suburban stadium could be ready.

How to raise more than $1 billion more to fund a stadium is another question. Gov. JB Pritzker and other officials were quick to dismiss the idea of ​​throwing public money at a stadium project, especially as Chicago taxpayers continue to foot the bill for the 2003 renovation. But the team could very well cover the massive bill through a combination of loans from the NFL, seat licensing deals and new property investments.

At a press conference in January, Bears President Ted Phillips gushed about the prospect of breaking ground at Arlington Park, saying “there was nothing quite like it in Chicagoland” and a stadium project would “put Arlington Heights on the map as a travel destination.” Team chairman George McCaskey was more reticent, declining to rule out the possibility of negotiations to stay downtown.

Chicago Bears President Ted Phillips, left, and Chairman George McCaskey listen during a news conference in 2018.

Chicago Bears President Ted Phillips, left, and Chairman George McCaskey listen during a news conference in 2018.

Industry experts have insisted the team must build a massive new stadium from the ground up to maximize profits in the modern NFL.

“It means a lot more to an NFL building than designing it for NFL games,” David Manica told the Sun-Times in February, before his firm was announced as a Bears partner. “It needs to be multifunctional and serve many different uses for the city and the building owners.”

“These are some of the most intricate structures a city can construct,” said Manica, who also designed the new Golden State Warriors stadium in San Francisco. “They are also the buildings that bring people the most joy. … They become icons and trademarks of the city. There is an incredible amount of pride and joy in these buildings.”

Contribution: Patrick Finley

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