Dear Arlington Heights: For cities with NFL stadiums, it’s always something

There very well could be costs down the road for luring the Bears to town.

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Fans entering U.S. Bank Stadium before its inaugural game, between the Vikings and the Packers, in 2016.

Fans enter U.S. Bank Stadium before its inaugural game, between the Vikings and the Packers on Sept. 18, 2016, in Minneapolis.

Jamie Squire/Getty Images

A word of warning to our friends in Arlington Heights: It’s always something when an NFL stadium plops down in your town.

If you’ve paid any attention to the Bears and Soldier Field over the years, you already know the challenges. The concrete had barely dried on a 2003 renovation the team had championed when the grumbling began about its inadequate seating capacity compared with other NFL stadiums. The Bears’ dissatisfaction with Soldier Field led to their buying the land where Arlington International Racecourse used to sit. And now the team is poised to move to Arlington Heights. In professional sports, not getting what you want means getting it somewhere else.

Old stadium or new stadium, it doesn’t matter: It’s always something. The Star Tribune recently reported that the beautiful stadium the Vikings built seven years ago in downtown Minneapolis will need about $280 million in repairs and upgrades over the next 10 years to remain in excellent condition. That includes $48 million for fixes and improvements in 2024 alone. I believe the proper term for that is, “Yikes!’’ The money will come from the team and taxpayers.

The Bears have emphasized that they will pay for the Arlington Heights stadium by themselves, which is nice of them. Those of us who have seen a few things over the years will wait and see what they mean by that. Meanwhile, taxpayers still owe a whopping $631 million for the renovations at Soldier Field. Let’s make “yikes’’ our word of the day.

These issues are not unique to the Bears or the Vikings. Professional franchises promise all sorts of things when they want a new stadium, and municipalities, lusting for the chance to be seen as “major league,’’ often believe the sweet nothings that have been whispered in their ears.

The lifespan of an NFL stadium is about 20 years. When the Bears meet with Arlington Heights residents to talk about the exciting possibilities a new stadium in their village could offer, I’ll bet they don’t mention that one. I’ll bet the life expectancy of Cheez-It Stadium or whatever it’s going to be called isn’t a talking point.

The Bears might be using their own money to build the stadium — and feel free to let your skepticism run wild — but what’s happening in Minnesota does give one pause. U.S. Bank Stadium cost $1.1 billion to build, and seven years later, it needs a lot of work. The only thing that’s permanent in the NFL is the rock-solid truth that owners always get richer. Players come and go. So do stadiums. Fans are advised not to get attached to either. They’re advised to stay attached to their money. Will the Bears pay for the inevitable repairs down the road? What about a full-scale renovation? What happens when the team realizes the stadium is lacking revenue streams it hadn’t even considered when it was built 10 years earlier? What happens when the Bears want a new stadium? Will they be as willing to foot the bill by themselves as they are now?

Things happen, things that football fans in Arlington Heights might not be thinking about in their ardor for the Bears.

You could spend an evening around a campfire listening to scary stories about the trinity of American cities, pro sports teams and stadium building. It doesn’t matter where the Bears land. What matters is that citizens have their eyes open to what this really is about. It’s not about creating jobs. That’s a fallacy. It’s about making money for the franchise.

The Bears know their fans will show up for games, regardless of the location. The team has no more allegiance to Arlington Heights than it would a Walmart parking lot. Strip away all the romance about a stadium, about the ghosts of football games past, and you have a place of commerce. You have an Almighty Dollar Tree.

The people who will be coming to the northwest suburb to watch a Bears game won’t care about the future costs for Arlington Heights. They’ll care, to excess, why the coach made that stupid decision at the goal line. It’s up to citizens of the village to understand what they’ll get by opening their arms to the Bears. They’ll get to be seen as major league, but there’s also the chance their grandchildren will be paying in some fashion for decisions made 20 years earlier.

Again, the Bears insist that no taxpayer money will go toward the building of their new stadium. But it should be pointed out that the Bears’ new president, the man hired to lead the effort to build a new stadium in Arlington Heights, is Kevin Warren. He also was involved in getting the Vikings’ stadium built. The one that will need $280 million in repairs and upgrades over the next decade.

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