There’s been a lot of speculation over the past few months that the Bears are thinking about moving out of Soldier Field and after not commenting on the situation for weeks, the team finally confirmed on Thursday that a move could eventually be on the table.
Bears president Ted Phillips announced that the team has made a bid to purchase a chunk of land in Arlington Heights, which sits roughly 35 miles outside of Chicago.
“We recently submitted a bid to purchase the Arlington International Racecourse property,” Phillips said in a statement. “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.”
The 326-acre piece of land is currently occupied by the Arlington Park race track, but it’s not going to be there for long. The owner of the track, Churchill Downs Inc., is selling all of the land with the expectation that the new buyer is going to tear down the track and re-develop the site. Developers and investors had until June 15 to submit a purchasing bid.
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The Bears were one of several investors that made a bid for the land. If the Bears win the bid, they could end up building a new stadium and making the move to Arlington Heights.
Ideally, the Bears would probably prefer to stay at Soldier Field, but that won’t be easy or cheap. The stadium, which was built in 1924, only seats 61,500 and due to spacial constraints, it’s unlikely that number will ever be expanded by much. Renovating Soldier Field would be an expensive proposition and at this point, the team might feel that building a new stadium at Arlington Heights would be a better overall value. (A renovation of Soldier Field in 2004 cost $690 million, according to the Chicago Tribune.)
Of course, one thing that could throw a wrench into any plans of leaving Soldier Field is that the Bears have a lease to play there for the next 13 seasons. When asked about the lease back in April, Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes didn’t seem too concerned.
“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.”
The Bears have played at Soldier Field since 1971. Besides the stadium issue, there’s also been a report that the Bears could soon be for sale due to “internal strife” among the family members that own the team. With the possibility of both a new stadium and new owners coming in the near future, the organization could soon be undergoing some of the biggest changes in the history of the franchise.