CHICAGO - The Chicago Bears have submitted a bid to purchase the property of Arlington International Racecourse. This comes amid speculation that the team may be considering a move to the suburbs from downtown Soldier Field.
The Bears made the announcement Thursday afternoon on Twitter.
"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 organization and its future. If selected, this step allows us to further evaluate the property and its potential," Bears president and CEO Ted Phillips said.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot responded following the announcement, saying in part, "This is clearly a negotiating tactic."
"Our city is home to some of the world's finest sports teams who have played a vital role in the city's reopening. As part of the city's recovery, many organizations are doubling down on their commitment to Chicago, and we expect the Chicago Bears to follow suit. The Bears are locked into a lease at Soldier Field until 2033. In addition, the 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 organization to focus on putting a winning team on the field, beating the Packers finally and being relevant past October. Everything else is noise," Lightfoot said in a statement.
Back in April, Crain’s Chicago Business reported the team was considering a move to Arlington Heights as their new home, which is about 30 miles northwest of their current lakefront venue.
At the time, neither the Bears nor Mayor Lightfoot denied the report.
"Certainly, the Arlington Park site is available and we would consider the Chicago Bears a great fit for that particular site," Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes had said.
Hayes said while the Bears had not reached out to him about taking over the location, he said it was an ideal spot for the team because of its large footprint, proximity to major highways and on-site Metra access.
"I think the Bears are seriously considering it because it's such a unique piece of property," Hayes had said. "It has so much going for it in terms of its location in the northwest suburbs where a lot of their audience is."
Mayor Lightfoot admitted she did have a conversation with Bears ownership in which the team inquired about changes to Soldier Field.
"It’s a great, iconic site," Lightfoot had said. "But it’s a challenging site, and I think it’s incumbent on us as a city to step up and look at ways in which we can make sure that the Bears fans, but also the Bears as an organization, have the best opportunities to maximize the fan experience and, of course, maximize revenues."
Lightfoot at the time did not shed light on the nature of the Bears' requests, but implied the team was not going anywhere.
"The Bears have a lease with Soldier Field until 2033 and the NFL doesn't let any teams break their leases," she had said.
But Mayor Hayes, who is also a lawyer, would not rule out the possibility.
"I know there's contracts involved and lease agreements," Hayes said. "But a good attorney will tell you, you can always get out of those. There might be a significant price involved, but I would think if they wanted to make it happen, they could make it happen."
Soldier Field is the oldest NFL stadium in operation, having opened in 1924. The Bears have only played there regularly since 1971 when they moved out of Wrigley Field — the 1914-built home of the baseball Cubs on the city’s north side — for more seating capacity. Arlington Heights was considered for a home by the Bears in the 1970s and again in the ’80s, but they settled in the popular museum campus area directly south of downtown with its view of Lake Michigan.
Soldier Field, which underwent a $690 million renovation in 2002 that forced the Bears to play home games at the University of Illinois in Champaign, is owned by the Chicago Park District. The spaceship-shaped, glass-dominated addition of luxury areas and modern amenities was designed to preserve the stadium’s famous Greek and Romanesque colonnades, but the clash of styles prompted widespread criticism.
The ability of the grass playing field to hold up through the colder and wetter months has also been the subject of complaints from players and coaches over the years. Soldier Field now has a capacity of 61,500 seats for Bears games, smallest in the NFL.
The horse track, which opened in 1927, is on a 326-acre site and is currently owned by Churchill Downs, the organization that runs the Kentucky Derby.
"It is a one-of-a-kind location and we are glad that the Bears ownership sees its tremendous potential," Hayes said.
The next-oldest stadium in the league behind Soldier Field is Green Bay’s Lambeau Field, which opened in 1957. The home of the Packers has been renovated multiple times, with major projects completed in 2003 and 2015.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.