Waukegan Enters the Bears Bidding Fray, Pitching North Suburb as Ideal Lakefront Home for New Stadium

(Courtesy of City of Waukegan)(Courtesy of City of Waukegan)

The north suburban community of Waukegan is the latest town to get in on the high-stakes game of bidding for the Chicago Bears.

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Waukegan Mayor Ann Taylor pitched her city in a letter Monday to Bears CEO Kevin Warren, noting Waukegan has “multiple large parcels, including lakefront property within 20 minutes of the (Bears headquarters) PNC Center at Halas Hall, that could be developed into both the state-of-the-art and entertainment district the team has publicly expressed interest in building.”

The largely industrial community sits along the Lake Michigan shoreline, some 50 miles north of Soldier Field, where the NFL team currently plays home football games.

Waukegan owns and controls available land that ticket-holders could easily access should the Bears build a stadium there, Taylor touted.

“The City also has excellent transportation infrastructure as Waukegan is located along Interstate 94 and U.S. Route 41, a major stop on Metra’s Union Pacific North Line, and is home to Waukegan National Airport,” the letter said.

The Bears have a lease to play home games at the Chicago Park District-owned Soldier Field until 2033, but are actively working to break away. The team in February spent almost $200 million to purchase the former Arlington Park race track property in Arlington Heights, but balking at the property tax tab after the Cook County assessor rest the property’s value to match that price, up from a 2021 valuation of around $33 million.

The property tax dispute has put the Arlington Heights project “at risk,” the Bears said in a statement June 1.

“We will continue the ongoing demolition activity and work toward a path forward in Arlington Heights, but it is no longer our singular focus. 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,” the statement reads.

Naperville is actively pursuing the Bears, and last week Warren talked with Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson.

After that meeting, Warren and Johnson issued an equivocating joint statement.

“Today we met and discussed our shared values and commitment to the city of Chicago, the importance of deep roots and the need for equitable community investment throughout the city,” the statement read. "We are both committed to the idea that the city and its major civic institutions must grow and evolve together to meet the needs of the future. We look forward to continuing the dialogue around these shared values.”

Waukegan’s play for the team notes what Taylor describes as the Bears’ “rich history in Lake County.” Lake Forest, a ritzy community south of Waukegan, hosts the Bears’ practice complex and headquarters, and Waukegan itself “was home to the Bears’ winter training facility in the early 1990s.”  Players have also called both Lake Forest and Waukegan home, the letter said.

Taylor closes her pitch with sports references.

“Our working class and diverse community is as tough as the 1985 Super Bowl-winning Bears, and our leadership team at Waukegan City Hall is as aggressive as (Bears quarterback) running the ball downfield when it comes to creating economic opportunities for our City,” it reads.

The Bears did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Waukegan’s offer, and a spokesperson for Waukegan had no additional information as of Tuesday afternoon. 

Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @AmandaVinicky

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