Horses have been running races at Arlington International Racecourse since 1927, but the track might soon be overrun by bears. Churchill Downs Inc. (CDI) is the current owner of the track and its massive 326-acre property, but announced earlier this year that it would sell the location for redevelopment. According to the Chicago Tribune, the NFL’s Chicago Bears have expressed interest in purchasing the property and have formally submitted a bid. If chosen, the team would relocate, after development is complete, from Soldier Field, which it has called home since 1971.
Chicago Bears Look to Upgrade
The Arlington track is now in its final year of operation and CDI revealed this past February that it would consider offers to purchase the property. It isn’t known how many offers have been submitted, but there is a definite appeal to seeing the Chicago Bears relocate to the area. The team’s president and CEO, Ted Phillips, announced the submission of the bid yesterday, creating a buzz around the entire state that was almost audible from Green Bay, Wisconsin.
The move would potentially give the Bears a lot of flexibility. Because of the size of the property, the team would be able to have a larger stadium, instead of the 61,500-person venue it now has through Soldier Field, with plenty of room left over for the development of everything from residences to entertainment to dining. The Bears have played at Soldier Field, the smallest stadium in terms of occupancy in the NFL, since 1971 and, despite renovations several years ago, might be ready for a new home. However, they would have to figure out what to do with the lease currently in place for Solider Field, which doesn’t expire until 2033.
The Arlington facility is located in Arlington Heights, about 30 minutes to the north of Chicago. The city’s mayor, Tom Hayes, welcomes the opportunity to have the Bears move there, saying in an interview with a local radio station yesterday, “That they’re even considering Arlington Heights is a real feather in our cap. This is a real prime piece of real estate located … in the northwest suburbs where a lot of the Bears fan base is. So I know there are a lot of people who would be very excited, including myself, to see the Bears in Arlington Heights.”
Not Everyone Is Thrilled With the Idea
While it isn’t known how many bids have been submitted, CDI has revealed that it has been given “strong proposals from numerous parties” and adds that it will provide an update within a few weeks. That will give Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot a chance to try to convince the Bears to stay home and CDI to choose another suitor. Mayor Lightfoot has repeatedly worked to keep the Bears at Soldier Field and believes the bid to buy the Arlington track might be a ruse to squeeze more expansion money out of the city. She asserts that it is “clearly a negotiating tactic that the Bears have used before” and emphasizes the lease agreement and its 2033 expiration date.
It’s possible that horses at the track won’t be replaced by bears or any other animal. There is another bid in the mix that comes from Roy Arnold, the former president of the track. He is working with investors and developers to create a project that would allow horse racing to remain at the venue, explaining, “We have the capital and the passion to make thoroughbred racing work at Arlington Park. We look forward to continuing the legacy that is Arlington.”