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The Chicago Bears seem to be moving forward with a plan that could take them out of the Chicago City limits.
The team has signed a purchase agreement for the Arlington International Racecourse property in the suburb of Arlington Heights, Ill., according to The Athletic, setting the stage for a Soldier Field replacement more than 30 miles from the team's home for five decades.
The Bears had been previously reported to have submitted a bid for the now-shuttered racetrack in June, with team president and CEO Ted Phillips saying the team was evaluating its options.
At the time of the bid for the racetrack, Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot shrugged it off as a negotiating tactic while taking a shot at the team's on-field success. She responded to news of the purchase on Twitter late Tuesday night, saying her administration is committed to keeping the team in Chicago and saying her door remains open:
My statement still stands on the Bears: my admin remains committed to continuing the work to keep the team in Chicago.
As I have said numerous times, our door in City Hall remains open. https://t.co/7pm7mLtCOc
— Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot (@chicagosmayor) September 29, 2021
A spokesperson for the mayor's office provided a more detailed response to The Athletic, emphasizing the city's belief in Soldier Field as a viable entertainment venue:
"We are not surprised by this move. 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's office said in a statement to The Athletic. "However, just as the Bears view this as a business decision so does the City. This season, Soldier Field signed a major contract with the Chicago Fire and just last weekend Soldier Field hosted the Shamrock Series — both of which are lucrative for the Chicago Park District and local economy.
"These examples and others demonstrate that Soldier Field remains a very sought-after venue, and, as the Mayor has said many times, overall, the City and Park District must explore all options to both enhance the visitor and fan experience at Soldier Field year-round and maximize revenues. Therefore, we must do what's in the best economic interests of our taxpayers and maximize the financial benefits at the important asset that is Soldier Field. As for the Bears, the Mayor has said numerous times, our door in City Hall remains open to engage the Bears."
Rumors of the Bears' interest in a move to the Chicago suburbs have popped up for decades, but this may be the most concrete step the team has taken.
Bears' Soldier Field lease expires in 2033
It's not exactly a secret that the Bears aren't happy with Soldier Field.
Not only does the stadium have the smallest capacity in the NFL at 61,500, but its occupants and owner have clashed over the state of its upkeep and the possibility of adding an assuredly lucrative sportsbook. Its midlife renovations hardly addressed some of the Bears' current biggest issues, and further renovating the property may not either.
The Bears' lease runs through 2033, complicating any potential exit before then. The team could very well remain in Chicago, but actually purchasing the land it could use for a new stadium can't be seen as anything other than a tangible step out of the city.
That doesn't mean the Bears are 100 percent on the way out, though. The cost of buying land for a stadium is nothing compared to actually building it, and recent price tags for NFL stadium have landed in the multi-billion dollar range.