It's happening: Bears sign deal to buy Arlington Park property, Chicago mayor says
The Chicago Bears reportedly have signed an agreement to purchase the Arlington Park property in Arlington Heights, putting the storied NFL franchise closer to building the state-of-the-art suburban stadium that founder George Halas first envisioned 46 years ago.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot confirmed the deal late Tuesday night, after it first was reported by The Athletic, which said the Bears would announce the news Wednesday morning.
"Tonight, the Bears informed us that they signed a purchase agreement for the Arlington Park property," Lightfoot stated. "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."
Reached late Tuesday, Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes declined to comment on the reported deal. When asked if the Bears might make an announcement as soon as Wednesday, Hayes said, "Well, we'll see what happens."
Spokespersons for the Bears and Arlington Park owners Churchill Downs Inc. did not immediately respond to requests for comment late Tuesday.
Arlington Park ran likely its final races Saturday, about seven months after Churchill Downs announced plans to sell the sprawling 326-acre property at Euclid Avenue and Wilke Road.
The Bears were among several entities that submitted a bid for the site before a mid-June deadline, joining a consortium led by former Arlington Park President Roy Arnold that wanted to preserve the oval and grandstand for horse racing. Other bidders included a host of mixed use developers, among them Chicago-based Glenstar Properties, Schaumburg-based UrbanStreet Group and Naperville-based Crown Community Development.
Talk of the Bears leaving Soldier Field for the suburbs is not new. George Halas first courted Arlington Heights in 1975, when he appeared at an Arlington Heights Chamber of Commerce luncheon and discussed moving the team to the racetrack. The rumor mill continued to churn in the decades since, after Halas' grandson Michael McCaskey again raised the possibility of moving to Arlington Park in 1985, among other suburban sites he explored later in the 1990s.
The allure of the racetrack property is obvious. Along with acreage needed for a multibillion-dollar stadium to rival new arenas in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, the site contains space for complementary elements like entertainment venues, restaurants, hotels, housing, shopping and more. The property has its own Metra station and nearby access to the Route 53 express way and Interstate 90.
But the purchase of the Arlington Park property would be just a first step by the Bears toward building a stadium and moving to the Northwest suburbs. Gov. J.B. Pritzker has said the team should not expect public money to help fund a new stadium, and the team has a lease to play at Soldier Field through 2033.
While Lightfoot previously has said she intended to hold the team to that lease, her statement Tuesday night also sought to highlight the viability of Soldier Field without the Bears as a tenant.
"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," the statement reads. "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."