By Larry Yellen, FOX 32 News Legal Analyst - bio | email
CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -
When the Chicago Bears report for training camp a week from Wednesday, they'll find some pleasant surprises.
Those surprises include a bigger locker room and some safer footing on the practice fields.
Workers were at Olivet Nazarene University Monday morning, putting the finishing touches on the stadium field that's occasionally used for Bears practice games. An estimated $5 million has been spent on improvements at the Bears practice camp this year.
The Bears, who previously had three year-deals to practice in Bourbonnais, now have a ten year commitment.
“In our new ten-year agreement, there were some different things that the Bears needed to improve the camp, make it better, and really things that Olivet Nazarene University wanted for their athletes as well,” said Director Gary Griffin of Alumni and University Relations.
Last year, the Bears for the first time were able to make use of the new Perry Center -- with its unique pool which helps with physical therapy -- and its large indoor gymnasium.
This year, the locker room has doubled in size. Two of the four practice fields have been leveled out and re-sodded. There's even a new laundry room and improvements at the front gate.
However, the Bears -- and their fans -- aren't the only ones who will benefit.
“We really enjoy having the Bears here. We want that to continue. I think we've shown that with a long term contract. But they are our secondary concern. Our students are our primary concern,” Griffin added.
Among the changes the Bears will find here in a couple of weeks, on one of their playing fields the natural grass has now been replaced with new artificial turf.
But community leaders say there's nothing artificial about the economic boost provided by the Bears.
Pat Martin chairs an alliance of businessmen, who along with alumni donors and hotel taxes, helped pay for the improvements.
“We do some expos and things up in Chicago trying to bring folks down, and as you guys looked at that tower, that's part of our display, and a lot of people come up and say, oh, you're the summer home for the Bears,” said Pat Martin of Economic Alliance of Kankakee County.