The Chicago Bears have maintained they are uninterested in continuing horse racing at Arlington International Racecourse, site of their prospective new stadium, with the site’s current owner, Churchill Downs, stating their belief the NFL American football franchise will transform the property into a “world-class stadium and development”.
The Bears last month confirmed the signing of a $197m (£143.1m/€169.4m) purchase agreement for Arlington International Racecourse, with the site being viewed as a possible location for a new stadium.
The news came after the Bears in June submitted a bid to purchase the Racecourse (pictured), with Chicago 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, which only staged its final meeting on September 25, 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.
The Bears are currently conducting due diligence on the deal ahead of potentially closing on an agreement in 2022 or 2023. Reports this week suggested a group of investors had approached the team to keep racing at the track starting in 2023.
Roy Arnold, CEO and president of Endeavor Properties, which was a finalist among bidders for the 326-acre property, told the Chicago Tribune newspaper that he would also like to work with the Bears to offer both racing and NFL football at the site. He said the other investors proposing such a deal could include Ralph Ross, a former co-owner of the racetrack.
However, in response to the speculation, Scott Hagel, the Bears’ senior vice-president of marketing and communications, said: “We are in the process of conducting our due diligence on the property and are not pursuing any horse racing opportunities on the site.”
Meanwhile, Churchill Downs CEO Bill Carstanjen also discussed the agreement with the Bears during his company’s quarterly earnings call.
Carstanjen said: “Although we are sad to close Arlington Park and would have loved to continue racing and investing in the region, we believe that the Chicago Bears will ultimately develop this prime real estate into a world-class stadium and development, with numerous amenities for fans and residents to enjoy over the coming decades.”
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 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 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.