The Chicago Bears took another step this week toward moving out of Chicago. The NFL franchise signed a purchase agreement this week for Arlington International Racecourse in Arlington Heights, Ill.
The Athletic first reported the development Tuesday, while the Bears announced the purchase agreement Wednesday. According to The Chicago Tribune, Bears president and CEO Ted Phillips called the purchase agreement “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,” Phillips said in a statement. “Our goal is to chart a path forward that allows our team to thrive on the field, Chicagoland to prosper from this endeavor, and the Bears organization 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.”
Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot tweeted Tuesday night that “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.”
The process began June 17, when the Bears submitted a bid to purchase the Arlington International Racecourse property, which is being sold by Churchill Downs Inc. The sale price was announced at $197.2 million, with Churchill Downs expected to close in late 2022 or early 2023.
The Arlington International Racecourse is located about 30 miles away from Soldier Field, where the Bears have played since 1971. Soldier Field, which is owned by the Chicago Park District, underwent a $690 million renovation in 2002 and has the smallest capacity in the NFL at 61,500 fans. The Bears’ lease runs through 2033, and The Chicago Tribune reported this summer that the Bears would have to pay $84 million in damages to the city if it breaks its lease in the next five years.
"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," a spokesperson for the mayor's office told The Athletic. "However, just as the Bears view this as a business decision so does the City. This season, Soldier Field signed a major contract with 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 maximize revenues. Therefore, we must do what's in the best economic interests of our taxpayers and maximize 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."
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