The Chicago Bears and Churchill Downs announced Wednesday morning that the Bears had agreed to purchase a property in Arlington Heights, Illinois, which is home to the Arlington International Racecourse, for $197.2 million, which is expected to lead to a redevelopment of the area that could include a new multi-billion-dollar stadium.
Though neither side explicitly mentioned a new stadium in their statements, the Bears have reportedly long been eyeing the 326-acre Arlington Heights property for building a new home field.
The Bears have played for 50 years at Soldier Field, an aging stadium near downtown that is owned by the Chicago Park District.
Soldier Field has a capacity of 61,500 fans for Bears games, making it the smallest NFL stadium, and at 97 years old it is also the league’s oldest.
The team’s lease to remain at Soldier Field goes until 2033, but the team could break the lease for $84 million in 2026, according to the Chicago Tribune—a fraction of how much the team could earn by owning its own stadium.
“My goal for any redevelopment has always been to put this prime piece of real estate to its highest and best use, and I can’t think of a higher and better use than this one,” said Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes. The suburb is located about 25 miles northwest of downtown Chicago.
$2.2 billion. That’s how much the average construct cost was for the NFL’s seven newest stadiums, according to the Chicago Tribune. SoFi Stadium near Los Angeles, which was one of two new stadiums that opened last season, reportedly cost $5.5 billion to build.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot told the Chicago Sun-Times last week she remains committed to keeping the Bears in Chicago, despite the team’s concerns about the aging Soldier Field. “I am a Bears fan. I want the Bears to stay in the city of Chicago,” Lightfoot said. “But I’ve got to do it in a way that is fiscally prudent and doesn’t preclude other uses in that stadium.” Soldier Field is also home to the Chicago Fire Major League Soccer team, and often hosts other sporting and entertainment events. The Bears only collect revenue from the team’s home games at Soldier Field, since the team doesn’t own the stadium.
The Chicago Bears are one of the NFL’s oldest franchises, starting play in 1920. The team has called Soldier Field home since 1971, after moving home games there from Wrigley Field, which is also home to the Chicago Cubs. While Soldier Field is one of the NFL’s most historic stadiums, the Bears have fallen far behind many teams in terms of stadium amenities (and revenue) by staying there. Opening a new stadium would mean the team’s games would be held in a state-of-the-art facility, while the Bears would also be able to profit off other events held at the stadium. Since Soldier Field was last renovated in 2003, nine new NFL stadiums have been opened—representing nearly a third of the league’s teams.
A bigger, better Soldier Field? Lightfoot makes pitch to keep Bears in Chicago (Chicago Sun-Times)