Well, it finally happened.
The Chicago Bears have officially signed a purchase agreement to buy the Arlington International Racecourse property in suburban Arlington Heights, Illinois, as first reported by Scott Powers of The Athletic late September 28.
“We are not surprised by this move. We remain committed to continuing the work to keep the team in Chicago and have advised the Bears that we remain open to discussions,” a spokesperson for the mayor’s office told The Athletic.
This is a huge move for the franchise, and it proves the team’s interest in leaving Soldier Field — which is currently the smallest stadium in the league in the third-largest market — is far more than the “negotiating tactic” Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot said it was back in June.
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What About the Bears’ Contract at Soldier Field?
In short, contracts can be broken. As the Chicago Tribune reported in July, the Bears should be able to get out of their lease, which is up in 2033, for an affordable (to them, anyway) $84 million in 2026. The amount the team would have to pay decreases every year after that: $74 million in 2027, $63.8 million in 2028, $53.3 million in 2029, $42.7 million in 2030, $32.1 million in 2031 and $21.6 million in 2032, via Chris Emma of 670 The Score.
The mayor’s office also told The Athletic they are willing to work with the Bears to improve Soldier Field, which remains an iconic venue despite its limited 61,500 capacity:
Just as the Bears view this as a business decision so does the City. This season, Soldier Field signed a major contract with the Chicago Fire and just last weekend Soldier Field hosted the Shamrock Series — both of which are lucrative for the Chicago Park District and local economy. These examples and others demonstrate that Soldier Field remains a very sought-after venue, and, as the Mayor has said many times, overall, the City and Park District must explore all options to both enhance the visitor and fan experience at Soldier Field year-round and maximize revenues. Therefore, we must do what’s in the best economic interests of our taxpayers and maximize the financial benefits at the important asset that is Soldier Field. As for the Bears, the Mayor has said numerous times, our door in City Hall remains open to engage the Bears.
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The Team Made Official Announcement September 29
The Bears went public with the announcement that they’ve signed the purchase agreement early on the morning of September 29.
“We are grateful to Churchill Downs Incorporated for their efforts to reach this point,” team president and CEO Ted Phillips said in a statement Wednesday morning, via Colleen Kane of The Chicago Tribune.
“Finalizing the PSA was the critical next step in continuing our exploration of the property and its potential. 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. 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.”
After months of reports detailing everything from Phillips saying the Chicago Park District was refusing “to engage in good faith discussions” about adding a sportsbook to Soldier Field, to recent reports that the legendary stadium isn’t structurally capable to withstand the kind of remodel the Bears are looking for, this is a huge move for the Bears. As Phillips noted, it’s not a done deal yet, but this was a big step in the direction of getting a final deal done.
“I’m still not convinced the Bears go through with the move, mostly because of the exorbitant costs and hassle involved in building a new stadium. But it’s obvious the Bears are serious about exploring this opportunity,” Jon Greenberg of The Athletic noted.
Bears insider Adam Jahns, also of The Athletic, called it an “extremely” serious step for the team. “In years past, the team has used Arlington Park as leverage in its negotiations with the city. But not this time; this time the Bears know they need a home and have the means to make it happen,” Jahns said. “The NFL landscape has changed too much for the Bears not to be serious about building their own stadium.”