Mayor blasts Bears as bid submitted for racecourse site

NFL American football franchise the Chicago Bears has submitted a bid to purchase Arlington International Racecourse, with Mayor Lori Lightfoot describing the announcement as “clearly a negotiating tactic” amid talk over the team’s long-term future at Soldier Field.

Arlington Racecourse sits on a 326-acre site around 30 miles northwest of Soldier Field (pictured) and is currently owned by Churchill Downs, the organisation that operates the Kentucky Derby. The Bears’ announcement is being interpreted as a potential willingness to leave its current home and develop a new stadium in the city of Arlington Heights.

Chicago Bears president and CEO, Ted Phillips, said in a statement: “We recently submitted a bid to purchase the Arlington International Racecourse property. It’s our obligation to explore every possible option to ensure we’re doing what’s best for our organisation and its future. If selected, this step allows us to further evaluate the property and its potential.”

Soldier Field is currently the oldest stadium in the NFL, having opened in 1924, while its 61,500-seat capacity for Bears games also makes it the smallest in the League. The stadium underwent a $690m (£497.1m/€579.1m) renovation in 2002, with the Bears calling it the franchise’s regular home since 1971.

Soldier Field is owned by the Chicago Park District and Lightfoot expressed her determination that the Bears remain in the city, noting that the team’s current lease deal is due to run through 2033. Lightfoot said in a statement: “This announcement from the Bears comes in the midst of negotiations for improvements at Soldier Field.

“This is clearly a negotiating tactic that the Bears have used before. As a season ticketholder and longtime Bears fan, I am committed to keeping the ‘Chicago’ name in our football team. And like most Bears fans, we want the organisation to focus on putting a winning team on the field, beating the (Green Bay) Packers finally and being relevant past October. Everything else is noise.”

Yesterday’s (Thursday’s) announcement came just a day after the Bears confirmed that fans would be able to return to Soldier Field for the 2021 season. The team’s entire 2020 season was played behind closed doors due to COVID-19. However, Phillips on Wednesday sent a letter to season ticket holders welcoming them back to Soldier Field at full capacity for the 2021 campaign.

“Your patience and loyalty over the past 15 months is appreciated,” Phillips wrote. “We are thankful and humbled by the unwavering passion you have shared with us. Once again, it’s time to enjoy Bears football in-person!”

Image: Moses8910/CC BY-SA 4.0/Edited for size