Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she's committed to keeping the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field as the team signs an agreement to purchase Arlington Park, signaling a potential move.
Lightfoot’s office confirmed the news late Tuesday, saying that they are “not surprised” by the decision.
“We remain committed to continuing the work to keep the team in Chicago and have advised the Bears that we remain open to discussions,” a spokesperson for the mayor said.
The mayor’s office cited new contracts signed with Chicago Fire FC and continuing agreements with Notre Dame for the Shamrock Series as events that showcase the appeal of Soldier Field.
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Lightfoot herself addressed the news, tweeting Tuesday "our door in City Hall remains open."
The Bears, Churchill Downs Incorporated and the Village of Arlington Heights said in a statement Wednesday that the team has signed a purchase and sale agreement "for the entire Arlington Park parcel in the Village of Arlington Heights."
“We are excited to have executed a Purchase and Sale Agreement (PSA) for the Arlington Park property,” Bears President and CEO Ted Phillips said in a statement. “We are grateful to Churchill Downs Incorporated for their efforts to reach this point. We also appreciate the support of Mayor Tom Hayes and the Village of Arlington Heights. Finalizing the PSA was the critical next step in continuing our exploration of the property and its potential."
Phillips said "much work remains to be completed" before the transaction is closed, but the Bears aim "to chart a path forward that allows our team to thrive on the field, Chicagoland to prosper from this endeavor, and the Bears organization to be ensured a strong future."
"We will never stop working toward delivering Bears fans the very best experience," Phillips' statement read. "We will continue to provide updates on our progress at the appropriate time.”
The owners of the horse racing venue had announced earlier this year that they intend to sell the property for redevelopment, and recently held what will likely be the final weekend of racing at the iconic venue.
Churchill Downs Incorporated CEO Bill Carstanjen said the bidding process was "extraordinarily competitive" and congratulated the Bears on the recent agreement.
Earlier this year, the Bears were one of several interested parties that submitted bids for the property, with the likelihood being that they would use the site to build a new stadium.
“We recently submitted a bid to purchase the Arlington International Racecourse property,” President and CEO Ted Phillips said in a statement at the time. “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.”
Officials in Arlington Heights paved the way for a stadium project with a vote earlier this summer.
The biggest stumbling block for any potential Bears relocation is their lease with the city of Chicago at Soldier Field, which runs through 2033. The team could opt out of the lease in 2026, with a financial penalty of more than $80 million to do so.
Lightfoot has repeatedly said that she is committed to keeping the Bears in Chicago, expressing a willingness to work with the team on potential renovations to the lakefront stadium.
Earlier this year, Lightfoot said that while the lakefront site is “challenging,” the team is locked into a lease, and she is confident that the NFL won’t let the team break it.
“A couple of data points that I think you should be aware of are the Bears have a lease with Soldier Field until 2033, and the NFL doesn’t let any teams break their leases,” she said. “I was just on a call with senior leadership in the last two weeks. So there are things that they’d like to see differently at Soldier Field, and we want to do whatever we can to accommodate it. It’s a great iconic site, but it’s a challenging site.”
The Bears previously discussed the possibility of building a stadium in Arlington Heights in the 1980s, but ultimately made the decision to renovate Soldier Field, with the state of Illinois raising funds to help the team do so. The Bears played at the University of Illinois football stadium for one season before debuting the new-look Soldier Field in 2003.