The Chicago Bears made a massive splash on Wednesday when it was announced that they have agreed to buy Arlington International Racecourse, but now officials are left to question what a reality would look like if the Bears decided to move from Soldier Field and out to the suburbs.
After the story broke late Tuesday night, Mayor Lori Lightfoot indicated that there is a good amount of interest in Soldier Field from various corners, including from concerts and from the Chicago Fire, who just inked a new contract with the city to play at the iconic venue.
Lightfoot also said that she hopes to make the stadium a year-round destination.
“It’s a really big deal,” Juanita Irizarry, executive director of Friends of the Parks. “Obviously it has major implications for the Chicago lakefront and stadium if they would vacate.”
Irizarry says that the Soldier Field space is a revenue-generator for the Chicago Park District, and replacement revenue would be an interesting challenge if the Bears were to leave.
“Mayor (Richard) Daley made commitments to a number of advocates, including Friends of the Parks back at the time, to create what’s now Museum Campus,” Irizarry said. “There were commitments to turn what is now the Bears parking lot into green space and to actually move the parking lot across the street and to the other side of the drive.
“This is an interesting opportunity to revisit some of these plans that were drawn up at the time and that were never completed,” she added.
The stadium has hosted a wide variety of events over the years, including concerts, hockey games and college football games. Those events would likely continue even if the Bears left the lakefront, but for now, all options are open, even as Lightfoot says she is looking to engage the Bears on staying in the city.
“The Bears are making a business decision, and we’ll see how that goes, and I have to make a business decision for the city of Chicago,” she said.
More concerts are possible, along with other sporting events, but Irizarry and other advocates say there are other potential uses and redevelopment opportunities at the lakefront site, should the team ultimately move.