The Chicago Bears took a big step towards moving their longtime home to Soldier Field – one of America’s most recognizable stadiums – and to the suburbs by signing a purchase contract for Arlington Park in about 30 miles northwest of town.
“We are delighted to have signed a purchase and sale agreement for the Arlington Park property,” Bears President and CEO Ted Phillips said in a statement on Wednesday. âThere is still a lot of work to be done, including working closely with the Village of Arlington Heights and surrounding communities, before we can complete this transaction. “
Churchill Downs Incorporated, owner of the property officially known as Arlington International Racecourse, announced the sale price was $ 197.2 million.
During a media briefing, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she “would do whatever I can to keep (the Bears) here in the city of Chicago and I don’t think the door is going to be. closed in any way â.
But she said she needed to hear from the team first, saying Bears officials refused to meet with her office, most recently on Tuesday, when the team canceled a scheduled meeting with officials of the Bears. the city.
âAt the end of the day, they have to come to the table,â she said.
Lightfoot, who has said the city is ready to strike a deal that maximizes income for both the team and the city, also clarified that if the Bears decide to move, the price of land in Arlington Heights may not be be the only thing bears pay.
“I know they have a contract with us that runs until 2033 and like I said (team president) George McCaskey, I don’t want to break that contract, and if they want to get out of it sooner they are going to have to pay us for it.
The statement released by the Bears does not include any mention of how the team plans to fund a stadium or the cost of a new stadium, but Lightfoot pointed out that the two most recent NFL stadiums – the home of the Las Vegas Raiders and the stadium shared by the Los Angeles Rams and Los Angeles Chargers – were both “$ 4 billion to $ 5 billion businesses.”
The Bears, who have played at the lakeside stadium since 1971 after leaving Wrigley Field, have raised the possibility of moving over the years. One important factor is that the stadium, which is owned by the Chicago Park District, has fewer fans – 61,500 – than any other stadium in the NFL.
Over the years, the Bears have seen other teams leave their homes for new and shiny ones – some outside of cities, and even out of state, where they have spent decades. The New York Giants and New York Jets now play in New Jersey, the Rams have rebounded from Los Angeles to St. Louis and back again, and Las Vegas is just the last home of the Raiders, who have relocated. from Oakland to Los Angeles. , back to Oakland and now to Las Vegas.
Lightfoot appeared to recognize that moving is a distinct possibility for the Bears. âLife goes on,â she said.
If the Bears move, they could develop more than 300 acres around the stadium with restaurants, shopping and entertainment – something other teams like the Rams, Chargers and Raiders have done to boost their income.
It would also be the final chapter in the long and sometimes controversial history of Soldier Field.
When the Bears moved to Soldier Field from Wrigley Field, the longtime home of the Chicago Cubs, in 1971, Soldier Field already had a long history.
It was the site of the 1927 boxing match between Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney which became known as the “Battle of the Long Count” after Dempsey failed to make it to a neutral corner immediately after knocking down Tunney, giving Tunney time to recover and ultimately win the fight.
It has hosted rock concerts and speeches by such luminaries as President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Martin Luther King Jr.
But it’s been most closely associated with the Bears, both when it was home to some truly awful teams as well as the legendary 1985 team that won the franchise’s only Super Bowl.
The stadium itself grabbed the headlines. After playing the 2002 season at Champaign’s Memorial Stadium – the home of the University of Illinois – as Soldier Field underwent a $ 690 million renovation, the Bears returned to a home where boos could be heard at the both for the field crew and the stadium itself because it looked like a spaceship that had landed – and landed hard – above the famous Neoclassical Doric columns. One of the city’s two main newspapers dubbed it âthe error of the lake,â while the other conducted a poll that concluded it was the ugliest building in Chicago.
As for the Bears’ possible new home, Arlington Park has been around for about as long as Soldier Field. The track itself opened in 1927, and in 1981 it hosted the first million dollar thoroughbred race.