The Chicago Bears have flirted with the idea of potentially seeking out a site for a new stadium, but the team escalated things on Thursday when they announced that they have submitted a formal bid to purchase Arlington International Racecourse.
The site, located in Arlington Heights, has been rumored to be on the Bears’ radar for some time now, but this is the biggest step yet that the team has taken to potentially leaving Soldier Field, and even the city of Chicago, behind.
Of course, Chicago sports fans likely aren’t surprised by what could be considered a perceived threat to move. The Chicago White Sox made strides toward potentially moving to Florida in the 1980’s before receiving financing to build a new stadium on Chicago’s South Side, and the even the Bears have toyed with the idea of moving before, exploring a move to the suburbs in the 1980’s and early 1990’s before agreeing to a deal that would enable them to renovate Soldier Field.
Even still, there are definitely reasons why the team would consider moving. The first and most obvious is the club’s limited seating capacity At Soldier Field. At a listed capacity of 61,500, the Bears have the smallest stadium in the NFL, along with very limited opportunities for expanding that capacity, should the need arise.
The limited capacity is also one of the reasons that the Bears are highly unlikely to ever get the opportunity to host a Super Bowl, the crown jewel of the NFL calendar. According to reports, the NFL requires stadiums to be able to hold at least 70,000 fans for the game, something the Bears would struggle to do with the current configuration of the stadium.
The weather, of course, is another factor, as the NFL has historically hesitated to award the game to stadiums in cold weather climates that lack a retractable or permanent roof. Minneapolis, Detroit and Indianapolis have all hosted Super Bowls, but all three stadiums have one thing in common: weather control.
The closest the NFL has come recently to a cold-weather Super Bowl was contesting the game in New Jersey, where the average high temperature in February is 42 degrees. In Chicago, the average February temperature is 35 degrees, and when you add in unpredictable wind and snow patterns along the lakefront, the league would likely pass over any opportunity to host the game at Soldier Field.
The addition of a roof to a stadium could also draw in other big events, like the College Football Playoff Championship Game, which is set to be played in Indianapolis in January, and the Final Four, which has been held at several Midwest football stadiums, including Ford Field, US Bank Stadium and Lucas Oil Stadium.
While there would certainly be some benefits to a suburban stadium, there are a number of drawbacks, including the distance from Chicago. A trip from Soldier Field to Arlington International Racecourse clocks in at 31 miles, and on a gameday would likely take at least an hour for Chicago residents to make their way to the northwest.
The racetrack is accessible via Metra trains, as it is located on the UP-Northwest line, but it would be a far sight further for Bears fans in the city and in the south suburbs to travel to attend a game.
There would also be questions about whether the site would have sufficient acreage for parking spaces and hotel and retail options.
Getting traffic in and out of the area could also be a potential issue, as fans would likely have to take Route 53 north from Interstate 90 and then use Euclid Avenue, a four-lane street, to access the stadium and parking lot.
It is not known at this time when a winning bid for the property will be chosen, but the Bears’ decision to take the step of formally bidding for the location is a indication of just how serious they are about determining the location, and the structure, of their home in the future.