It has yet to be settled whether a new stadium will be built in Arlington Heights as the new home for the Chicago Bears, but whatever happens the team will continue its nearly 50-year presence in Lake Forest, according to Bears and city officials.
While some NFL teams have their corporate headquarters and practices fields in the same complex as their stadiums, Bears spokesman Scott Hagel simply said “yes” when asked if the team plans to maintain those facilities at Lake Forest’s Halas Hall no matter what happens with the team’s pursuit of the former Arlington International Racecourse property.
Hagel’s declaration was made after Lake Forest City Manager Jason Wicha spoke about the future of the Bears at the end of a Jan. 26 forum hosted by the Lake Forest/Lake Bluff Chamber of Commerce.
Wicha sensed the team would remain on the 38-acre Halas Hall complex, pointing to the team’s stated preference to have a shopping, retail and entertainment district on the 326-acre Arlington Park site in addition to the stadium.
He also noted the team’s financial commitment to the current Halas Hall, as the facility has been expanded twice in the last 10 years.
“We have no concerns about the Bears leaving,” Wicha said. “We are very proud to call the Chicago Bears one of our partners in the community, and we are proud for them to call Lake Forest home. We expect that to continue for many years to come.”
Marc Ganis, the president of Sportscorp Ltd., a leading sports business consulting firm who has worked with many NFL teams on stadium projects, was not surprised the Bears intend to remain in Lake Forest even if a new stadium is built in Arlington Heights.
“The Arlington Park land is very valuable, and the Bears have already identified alternative development uses for the land to help offset costs for building and operating the stadium,” Ganis said. “A proper training facility with offices, parking, 2.5 to 3.5 fields, (and) a building with a dome or a covered building for inclement (weather) practices takes 8, 10 or 12 acres of land out of commission; and the Bears are planning to use that (Arlington Park) land for other development.
“It makes perfect sense for the Bears to leave their offices and training facilities in Lake Forest, which is not very far away from the stadium site in Arlington Heights,” he said.
Arlington Heights is about 20 miles away from Lake Forest.
The Bears have been a presence in Lake Forest for almost five decades. In 1975, the rookie year of legendary running back Walter Payton, the team started practicing at the city’s Ferry Hall. In 1979, they moved into the original Halas Hall at Lake Forest College, which also served as the corporate headquarters.
In 1997, the current Halas Hall opened in the Conway Park office complex near the Tri-State Tollway. Since 2020, the Bears have also held their training camp at Halas Hall.
The Bears announced in September 2021 they had signed a purchase agreement for the Arlington Park site. Team officials have said publicly they expect to close on the purchase in the first quarter of 2023, but they are not guaranteeing it will be developed.