Concerns about traffic and safety raised in Naperville’s second stadium meeting with Chicago Bears, councilman says – Boston Herald


Questions about traffic and public safety were raised in Naperville’s second conversation with the Chicago Bears about building an NFL stadium in the city instead of Arlington Heights, Naperville City Councilman Benny White said.

White was part of an online meeting organized by Mayor Scott Wehrli with Bears representatives last week. He would not disclose who else was part of the session, how things were left or if a third meeting was planned.

The concept of Naperville as a possible alternative stadium location was broached by Naperville Mayor Scott Wehrli when he wrote a letter to the team and then held a June 2 in-person meeting with Bears President and CEO Kevin Warren. Wehrli has stressed that conversation was very preliminary.

White, a council liaison to the Naperville Development Partnership and senior council member, said his goal in the second meeting was to ask the questions residents have raised after news of the first meeting became public.

“My main concern was the impact of bringing 70,000 people to Naperville on a weekend and that includes the occasional concert,” White said.

The number one complaint of residents is traffic, he said, “and this is definitely going to affect that.”

With people tailgating before games and the consumption of alcohol, public safety is also an issue, he said. “Will we need to hire more police?” was one of the questions White said he asked.

The councilman didn’t get into details about the team officials’ responses other than to say the Bears mentioned that traffic studies would be conducted if a proposal was submitted.

“It’s important to keep residents in the loop,” White said, but at this point there are no plans to discuss.

“This might die on the vine,” he said. “But it’s always worth a listen.”

The team, which has a contract to use Chicago’s Soldier Field through 2033, purchased the former Arlington International Racecourse land in Arlington Heights for $197 million. They want to build their own stadium and reap the revenue from seat licenses, luxury suites, naming rights and other amenities, officials have said.

Bears’ representatives have notified Arlington Heights that plans to build a stadium in the village are “at risk,” in part because of the high property tax assessment from Cook County, and they are exploring other stadium location options.

Although no specific location in Naperville has been publicly discussed, Wehrli has said he wants to find ways to put underutilized commercial properties to work, especially those in the Interstate 88 Tollway corridor, which was once home to the research and development campuses of Bell Labs and Amoco.

The 178-acre former BP/Amoco campus property along Warrenville Road between Washington and Mill streets would easily be large enough to accommodate a stadium and parking. Located on the north side of the I-88 corridor, it would be accessible from I-88 exits at Naperville and Winfield roads.

White said if the Bears did submit concept plans, the city would fully vet the plan and obtain public feedback before any decision was made. “This is an unprecedented potential decision,” he said.

The councilman also acknowledged that conversations the Bears are having with communities like Naperville could be something the team is using to leverage their negotiations with Arlington Heights.

“I get that they bought land in Arlington Heights. But I want to know, why are you looking elsewhere?” White said.

Chances are, those same issues would come up if plans were to switch to Naperville, he added.

White’s concerns about traffic and public safety have been echoed by other councilmen.

“I can’t imagine a scenario where a 75,000-seat stadium doesn’t result in increased drunk driving fatalities, diversion of police resources and higher sales taxes,” Councilman Ian Holzhauer said when questioned about the stadium idea last week.

Generations of Naperville leaders “sacrificed to build the ‘best city in America to raise a family,’ and I don’t plan to gamble that away,” he said.

Echoing the mayor, Councilman John McBroom said conversations with the Bears were spurred by concerns Naperville leaders have over the large underdeveloped properties in the I-88 tech corridor.

Developers have wanted to fill the BP property with warehouse and distribution facilities, something to which city officials and the Naperville Development Partnership are opposed.

McBroom said he doesn’t want to read too much into the city’s meetings with the Bears because it’s likely the team is using them as a means of pressuring Arlington Heights. But he also doesn’t want to shut the door to “a real conversation with the Bears either,” he said.

“At this point, nobody would even know what the economics behind it would be or if it’s even possible,” McBroom said.

So many issues would have to be addressed if a stadium plan was submitted, such as the effects on Naperville’s downtown, traffic and crime, he said.

“There’s a lot of people up in arms right now (but) it’s just a conversation,” McBroom said.

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