The Chicago Bears signed a purchase agreement to buy the Arlington International Racecourse in late September, as first reported by Scott Powers of The Athletic. The move was a huge step in the direction of the team eventually leaving Soldier Field to build a new stadium in Arlington Heights, but as Arlington Heights Mayor Thomas Hayes recently noted during an October 4 Village Board meeting, the move is far from a certainty.
Citizens of Arlington Heights are asking questions about how the new stadium — should it be built — will be funded, with understandable concerns about potential taxes. According to Karen Ann Cullotta of The Chicago Tribune, Hayes told those in attendance at the board meeting that “the village has not committed any funds to the Bears project, and while tax incentives are offered to businesses, ‘it’s a last resort.'”
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Arlington Heights Mayor: ‘We Have a Long, Long Way to Go’
Soldier Field is the league’s oldest stadium (it has been around for 97 years), and it is also the smallest, with a capacity of 61,500. The Bears have played there since 1971, and despite getting renovations done in 2002, the team has been interested in both structural improvements along with adding sports betting opportunities to the stadium, but has been met with resistance from the Chicago Park District, per a September 20 report by WBEZ.
Thus, rumors of the team’s departure from Soldier Field went into hyperdrive with the purchase fo the racecourse, but Hayes isn’t making any promises to the Bears. “We’re not going to give away the store … we’re going to take care of our residents,” Hayes said at the Monday night meeting, Cullotta reported. “Obviously, this is not a done deal, and we have a long, long way to go,” the Arlington Heights mayor added.
Culotta’s report also took note of the mixed fan reaction to the Bears leaving a beloved venue like Soldier Field: “While the $197.2 million deal with property owner Churchill Downs is not final — nor is it the first time the Bears have made overtures to move to Arlington Heights — the possibility of the team abandoning Soldier Field and relocating to the northwest suburbs is bittersweet for some local residents.”
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Bears Have Also Been Cautious, Non-Committal
While the team has publicly confirmed the transaction, they haven’t said much else. “Much work remains to be completed, including working closely with the Village of Arlington Heights and surrounding communities, before we can close on this transaction,” Bears President and CEO Ted Phillips said about the team’s purchase of Arlington Heights, via press release on September 29.
“Our goal is to chart a path forward that allows our team to thrive on the field, Chicagoland to prosper from this endeavor, and the Bears organization to be ensured a strong future. We will never stop working toward delivering Bears fans the very best experience. We will continue to provide updates on our progress at the appropriate time.”
While all signs still point to the Bears building a new stadium in Arlington Heights, it’s clear neither side is ready to commit to anything permanent just yet.