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Bears Close On Arlington Heights Property As Soldier Field's Prospects Dim

The Chicago Bears finalized a deal to acquire the former Arlington International Racecourse in Arlington Heights, Illinois, in another blow to lingering hopes the Chicago Bears might be wooed to remain at their longtime Soldier Field home.

Rendering of the Bears' proposed stadium and mixed-use district in Arlington Heights, Illinois.

In an open letter released on Twitter late Wednesday afternoon, the team said it closed on the 326-acre property last week. While finalizing the $197.2M purchase does not guarantee the Bears will leave the city, the team said, “it is an important next step in our ongoing evaluation of the property.”

There is no decision on whether the Bears will go forward with plans for the stadium and mixed-use district, according to the statement, which noted a number of steps remain in determining the feasibility of the project.

But if the Bears do move forward, it “would be one of the largest mega-projects in Midwest history,” the team said, adding “today’s news is nonetheless an exciting update and positions our state and the Chicagoland region to be able to host world-class entertainment and sporting events on an unprecedented scale.” 

The Bears first inked a deal to purchase Arlington International Racecourse in northwest suburban Arlington Heights from Churchill Downs in September 2021. Since then, it has unveiled preliminary plans calling for a large mixed-use transit-oriented development that incorporates retail, apartments, office and entertainment space — all connected across the Salt Creek, a major greenway in other parts of Cook and Du Page counties.

The announcement marks the latest turn in a saga that has pitted the Bears against the city since the the 1970s when the team first threatened to decamp for Arlington Heights, Block Club Chicago noted. Soldier Field was rebuilt and expanded in 2002, but is still the smallest-capacity stadium in the National Football League.

It also marks another setback for Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who faces voters two weeks from now in a hotly contested re-election bid.

Lightfoot has proposed revamping the 99-year-old Soldier Field and its environs, including adding a dome to make the stadium more viable year-round. Landmark Development, which is working closely with the mayor’s office, last month released a video depicting proposed renovations narrated by TV news legend Bill Kurtis in hopes of building popular support for the Bears to stay.

In a statement to ESPN, Lightfoot's office said the deal closing came as no surprise.

"Nonetheless, all of us die hard Bears fans, the Mayor included, know and believe that the Chicago Bears should remain in Chicago," the statement read. "So, now that the land deal has closed, we have an even better opportunity to continue making the business case as to why the Bears should remain in Chicago and why adaptations to Soldier Field can meet and exceed all of the Bears' future needs."

The Bears' Soldier Field lease runs through 2033, the Chicago Tribune reported, though the team could sidestep it by paying an $84M penalty.