The Chicago Bears have begun demolition work on Arlington International Racecourse, a proposed site for a new stadium for the NFL American football franchise.
The Bears have secured permission to begin demolishing sections of the grandstand and the office and jockey locker room buildings on the site, located in Arlington Heights. However, Mayor Thomas Hayes has warned that a number of hurdles still need to be passed before the stadium project can get off the ground.
“It doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re going to build a new stadium, so we’re still a long, long way to go in terms of final plans,” Hayes told NBC Chicago. “But it is a step in the right direction, and we’re going to keep the ball rolling, so to speak.”
In February, the Bears moved a step closer to leaving Soldier Field after finalising a deal to acquire 326 acres of property in Arlington Heights. The Bears signed a purchase agreement for the site in September 2021 and stressed that finalising the $197.2m (£159.4m/€184.8m) deal did not guarantee the land would be developed, only that it marked an “important next step” in the team’s ongoing evaluation of the project.
Hayes said the Bears are still working to gain final approval from village and county officials to demolish the façade of the racecourse’s main grandstand. NBC Chicago noted the franchise also faces other challenges such as agreeing the property tax valuation of the site, and finding a resolution to retire the state’s debt that was incurred during renovations of Soldier Field during the early 2000’s.
Ernie Rose, an attorney who is a member of the Touchdown Arlington grassroots coalition group that acts as a liaison between the Bears, Arlington Heights officials, and the community, said the team’s move to start demolition work makes sense from a property tax perspective.
“At this point, they’re being taxed as if there’s a functioning racecourse here,” Rose told CBS News Chicago. “They’re not using it as a racecourse, and they’re being taxed several million dollars higher an assessment than the previous owners were.”
Soldier Field, the Bears’ current stadium, opened in 1924 and underwent a $690m renovation in 2002. With a capacity of 61,500, it is the smallest stadium in the NFL and the Bears’ lease deal is due to run until 2033, although the team could break the agreement for $84m as of 2026.
The City of Chicago is trying to keep the Bears at Soldier Field. Landmark Development, which is working with the City on a proposed revamp of Soldier Field, in January released more details of its domed vision for the stadium as part of plans to keep the Bears at the venue.