Bears sign purchase agreement for Arlington Heights property
By Sam Woiteshek
October 24, 2021
Photo Credit: Associated Press
The Chicago Bears, one of the NFL’s oldest franchises, announced they signed a purchase agreement for a 326-acre lot in Arlington Heights, Illinois. Churchill Downs Inc., the company synonymous with hosting the Kentucky Derby, sold the property to the Bears for $197.2 million.
Many experts believe that this is the latest step in the team's plan to relocate from their current, outdoor stadium to a modern dome. Soldier Field, current home of the Bears, is considered by many to be inadequately small. With a capacity of 61,500 spectators, the stadium is not large enough to host a Super Bowl, which requires a minimum of 70,000 seats. Not to mention, Soldier Field is owned by the Chicago Park District, not the Bears themselves. Other challenges, such as the amount of parking, downtown traffic, and the age of the venue—nearly 100 years—are present too.
The NFC North, the division that Chicago competes in, has two other teams that play at indoor complexes: the Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions. U.S. Bank Stadium, home of the Vikings, opened in 2016 and hosted Super Bowl LII in 2018. The Green Bay Packers would be the sole team in the division to play in an outdoor stadium, competing at the historic Lambeau Field.
The economic impact of the U.S. Bank Stadium is undoubtedly positive. 90 percent of $1.1 billion construction costs went directly back to Minnesotans. Moreover, Super Bowl LII weekend brought in $450 million and the Final Four weekend generated $200 million.
The trend doesn’t stop at football, either. Chase Center, the brand new home of the Golden State Warriors, opened in 2019 and already has $2 billion in ticket sales, suites, and corporate sponsorships. This helped to offset the $1.4 billion in construction costs and is projected to create substantial economic growth in San Francisco.
While the forecasted economic impact would likely benefit the city of Chicago, the Bears are locked into a lease at Soldier Field through 2033. If a move were to happen, experts predict it would be in 2026, when the team can buy its way out of the lease. In the meantime, some believe that the franchise will develop the surrounding area of the Arlington Heights property, creating a mixed-use area and entertainment center.
As for the fans, the reaction is mixed. While many are excited about the potential growth a new venue brings for the city and the franchise, the nostalgic tie to Soldier Field is unquestioned.
Ultimately, it is a bittersweet feeling toward a decision that would be welcomed with skeptical understanding.