Bears Move Closer to Leaving Soldier Field with Purchase of Arlington Heights Land

Mayor Lori Lightfoot launched a campaign to keep the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field after the team announced on Wednesday that it had finalized its purchase of the former Arlington Park racetrack, increasing the likelihood that the team will leave Chicago.

On the brink, that means, the National Football League team, which was once powerful but has been average or even worse in recent times, is departing from its 51-year-old location.

The Bears officials announced that the team had reached an agreement to buy the 326-acre property for $197.2 million, as they wanted to launch an exciting new chapter for the franchise. There is no doubt that the Midway Monsters of the northwest suburbs will be the perfect spot to see.

The team stated that there is a significant amount of thorough research that needs to be conducted in order to ascertain the feasibility of building a state-of-the-art stadium and a versatile entertainment district. They emphasized that purchasing the land does not guarantee its development, but it represents a crucial progression in their continuous assessment of the potential.

The potential departure of the Bears would be a setback for the city, and many pointed fingers at Lightfoot’s confrontational stance towards the football team. All eight contenders opposing Lightfoot’s reelection bid have expressed their concerns about the timing of this announcement, which comes just two weeks before Lightfoot seeks a second term as the mayor of Chicago.

Relocating from Chicago, the metropolis to prevent the Bears from, State Representative Kam Buckner and Alderwoman Sophia King (4th Ward), whose areas encompass the stadium, have advocated.

“The Bears have already made the decision to depart from Chicago,” stated former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas and Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson, with Johnson attributing it to “the resistant disposition of the Lightfoot administration.”

The Bears made the announcement that had been expected for a while, downplaying the significance of the statement in the mayor’s office.

As per the declaration, “the Chicago Bears ought to stay in Chicago,” recognize and have confidence that every single devoted Chicago Bears supporter, including the mayor, nevertheless.

Lightfoot will continue to “make the case” as to why the Bears should remain in Chicago and why Soldier Field can meet and exceed all the future adaptations needs of the Bears.

Provided that the team incurs a penalty, the Bears have the ability to terminate the lease that is scheduled to end in 2033 and make an annual payment of $6.48 million in order to utilize Soldier Field according to the specified conditions.

A view of an Arlington Heights campus from a new Bears stadium is pictured in a rendering. (Courtesy of Hart Howerton / Chicago Bears)A view of an Arlington Heights campus from a new Bears stadium is pictured in a rendering. (Courtesy of Hart Howerton / Chicago Bears)

In September, Lightfoot unveiled plans to build a dome over the lakefront stadium and expand its seating capacity, using at least $2.2 billion in taxpayer money for renovations.

Arlington Heights, the team’s new residence, remained resolute in their decision not to reconsider the plan, even after Lightfoot revealed her administration’s stadium plans, leaving Bears officials without any clue.

“However, Mayor Lightfoot’s office has stated that officials believe the Bears should enter negotiations with other city locations, as the team’s best future no longer remains solely in our beloved city of Chicago. The deal has now closed, and the team is no longer prohibited from considering other stadiums.”

After completing the acquisition of the property and in the process of persuading state authorities to provide financial aid for the endeavor, which comprises of retail stores, dining establishments, and venues for events, it remains uncertain as to why the mayor is of the opinion that the Bears’ executives would contemplate abandoning their intentions to relocate to Arlington Heights.

When the first news broke of the team’s serious consideration to move to the suburbs, Lightfoot brushed off the threat, urging the team to focus on putting a winning team on the field and beating the Packers, finally rendering October irrelevant.

Lightfoot has said that regardless of whether the Soldier Field, home of the Chicago Bears, leaves, she wants to make the stadium a “year-round destination” while preparing another stadium for the final proposal, which would be a dome over the stadium.

The proposal from the mayor’s office states that the inclusion of shuttles and trams would additionally enhance accessibility to Soldier Field through public transportation. Furthermore, the plan aims to augment the stadium’s seating capacity from 61,500 seats to a total of 70,000 seats, which includes the incorporation of additional fan activation areas, as well as the addition of seven suites.

Urban accommodations utilized bonds worth $660 million to settle their tax obligations, financing the refurbishment of Soldier Field in 2003. This renovation occurred subsequent to a plan sanctioned by former Mayor Richard M. Daley, prompted by the Bears’ ultimatum to relocate from the city. Soldier Field originally commenced operations in 1924.

As reported by the online publication Bond Buyer, about $415 million of that outstanding debt was still recorded by the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority in February 2022.

The mayor has formed a working group comprised of residents and tourists to create a plan for the future of the entire Campus Museum, which is seen as an essential hub for residents and a must-visit destination for tourists.

The existing prohibition on additional private development east of Lake Shore Drive does not provide the city’s Lakefront Protection Ordinance with the opportunity to legally consider the possibility of constructing a dome for Solider Field according to proposed plans.

In 2016, George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars, abandoned his plans and constructed the museum in Los Angeles following the group’s victory in a preliminary court case. The city faced a lawsuit from the watchdog organization Friends of the Parks using the same regulation when former Mayor Rahm Emanuel suggested constructing the Lucas Museum in the current parking lot adjacent to Soldier Field.