NFL American football franchise the Chicago Bears has today (Wednesday) confirmed the signing of a purchase agreement for Arlington International Racecourse, with the site being viewed as a possible location for a new stadium.
The news comes after the Bears in June submitted a bid to purchase the Racecourse (pictured), with Mayor Lori Lightfoot describing the announcement as “clearly a negotiating tactic” amid talk over the team’s long-term future at Soldier Field.
The Athletic website initially reported the news yesterday (Tuesday), adding that the team was expected to make an announcement today. The Bears and Churchill Downs Incorporated today confirmed a Purchase and Sale Agreement (PSA) was signed this week for the entire Arlington Park land parcel in the Village of Arlington Heights.
Bears president and CEO, Ted Phillips, said: “Finalising 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 endeavour, and the Bears organisation to be ensured a strong future. We will never stop working toward delivering Bears fans the very best experience. We will continue to provide updates on our progress at the appropriate time.”
Churchill Downs Incorporated CEO, Bill Carstanjen, added: “This has been an extraordinarily competitive bid process. Congratulations to the Chicago Bears for their professionalism and perseverance.
“It is clear they are committed to an exciting vision for their team and their fans. We wish them the greatest success and are excited for the opportunity this brings to the Village of Arlington Heights and the future economic development of this unique property.”
Arlington Racecourse, which staged its final meeting on Saturday, sits on a 326-acre site around 30 miles northwest of Soldier Field and is currently owned by Churchill Downs, the organisation that operates the Kentucky Derby. 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 (£510.6m/€591.4m) renovation in 2002, with the Bears calling it the franchise’s regular home since 1971.
A spokesperson for the Mayor’s office told The Athletic: “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.
“However, just as the Bears view this as a business decision so does the City. This season, Soldier Field signed a major contract with (Major League Soccer franchise) 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 maximise revenues.
“Therefore, we must do what’s in the best economic interests of our taxpayers and maximise 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.”
Lightfoot added on Twitter later Tuesday: “My statement still stands on the Bears: my admin remains committed to continuing the work to keep the team in Chicago. As I have said numerous times, our door in City Hall remains open.”
Soldier Field is owned by the Chicago Park District and Lightfoot has expressed her determination that the Bears remain in the city, noting that the team’s current lease deal is due to run through 2033.
In an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper, Lightfoot last week said: “I am a Bears fan. I want the Bears to stay in the city of Chicago. And we are willing to work with them to try to address their concerns. But, I’ve got to do it in a way that is fiscally prudent and doesn’t preclude other uses in that stadium.
“We are evaluating ways in which we can enhance the fan experience at Soldier Field … I know that it can be better. I’ve been to other stadiums across the country where the fan experience is far superior to what we have at Soldier Field.”
Image: Marswilsalc/CC BY-SA 4.0/Edited for size