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Bears eye Arlington Heights for new stadium site

Soldier Field

A bid on the Arlington International Raceway site could lead to a new Chicago Bears stadium, as the team expresses dissatisfaction with what they consider a small, cramped venue.

With a capacity of 62,000, Soldier Field is the smallest stadium in the NFL. And while the place looks all shiny and new after a flashy renovation that put new features on an old facility, the Bears say they want more from a venue. Hence the talk of a new stadium, as the Bears were one of multiple bidders for the property owned by Churchill Downs, Inc. From the Chicago Sun-Times:

[Team president Ted] Phillips couched it as the Bears exploring “every possible option” and allows them to “further evaluate the property and its potential” if their bid is accepted, and that means relocating is legitimately under consideration….

Overall, the Bears want more control over their home stadium, which isn’t actually theirs. The Chicago Park District owns Soldier Field, so the team is limited in what it can do as far as expanding the capacity beyond its current 62,000, modernizing aspects of a 97-year-old building, selling sponsorships for certain areas of the stadium and building a year-round museum and gift shop.

There would be nothing holding them back in Arlington Heights, where Mayor Thomas Hayes has been openly campaigning to lure them. He called a potential Bears move a “best-case scenario” for his village Thursday.

This is the latest twist in a 100-year-plus stadium saga for the Bears. The early days of the team had the Bears as a tenant at Wrigley Field, where George Halas negotiated a lease with William Wrigley. By the 1960s, it became clear that Wrigley Field was not a long-term solution for the Bears, with the NFL forcing the team to look for a new venue. In 1971, the solution was Soldier Field, a monstrosity on the downtown waterfront, after a plan to play at Northwestern University was rejected by the Big Ten. By 1975 the Bears also threatened a move to Arlington Heights.

The team’s current lease runs through 2033.

The state of the art in NFL stadiums begins with a price tag of at least a billion dollars; U.S. Bank Stadium, home of the Minnesota Vikings, cost $1.1 billion, while Allegiant Stadium, home of the Las Vegas Raiders, cost $1.9 billion. In both cases there was civic funding and financing for the projects, but control by NFL games opened new revenue sources; the Vikings, for instance, host a variety of events both big (concerts) and small (University of Minnesota baseball) year-round. A new Chicago Bears stadium would open those revenue streams to the Bears.

The Bears share Soldier Field with MLS’s Chicago Fire.

Image courtesy Chicago Bears.

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August Publications