The Chicago Bears May Soon be Shuffling Away

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The Chicago Bears continue to explore options to upgrade their stadium.

The Chicago Bears have rebuilt their front office, are currently  rebuilding their roster, and are now looking to rebuild their stadium.  Despite the landmark status and iconic location of Soldier Field, the Bears have endured  years of complaints over occupying the smallest stadium in the NFL, inconvenient parking, and a shoddy playing surface that local high schools would condemn.. 

To solve the challenges posed by Soldier Field, the Bears have been looking elsewhere for a location to build a new, custom stadium. In 2021, the Bears found a possible new home at the former Arlington International Racetrack in Arlington Heights, Illinois. Since then, the city of Chicago and Arlington Heights have been fighting over who will be the home of the Bears and hopefully, The Super Bowl.

In September 2022, building plans for Arlington Park were released, proposing not only a new stadium for the Bears but a multi-purpose entertainment, retail, and housing district all in a massive 326-acre area. 

   With more space for games, parking, and enterprise, the Chicago Bears feel the fan experience would be much better in Arlington Heights than in Chicago. New businesses and housing would be around Arlington, and being home to a professional football team undoubtedly would bring in a lot of economic opportunity for people and businesses. Though there are many advantages to moving to Arlington Heights, the biggest obstacle to the move comes from money. The Chicago Bears’ lease for Soldier Field doesn’t end until 2033, but as soon as 2026 the Bears could pay a hefty fee of $84 million to break free from their lease agreement. After the Bears move out of Chicago and into Arlington Heights, it will generate a lot of money for the people in the area, but to build the stadium and all the entertainment, leisure, and restaurants, the residents will be taxed with a PILT(Payment in Lieu of Taxes) which taxes residents’ federal payments to the local government to compensate for the amount of money the suburb will be paying for Arlington Park.

With the likelihood of the relocation of the Bears rising, the city of Chicago began to panic as they don’t want to lose the team that’s called them home for over 100 years, and undoubtedly big money makers. In response, Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot released a 6-minute-long Soldier Field reimagined video that would cost 2.2 billion dollars to complete. 

In the video, many of Soldier Field’s major issues, such as seating options,  are addressed. Furthermore, new additions such as a regional transit connecting the Metra, CTA, Amtrak, and the Chi-line all just across the street from Soldier Field. Above the transit station would be an entertainment district with live performances, museums, art, and a Bears fan club.  

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Inside the proposed rehabbed stadium, a Veterans memorial would honor Illinois Veterans as well as provide visitors with food courts, cafes, and upgraded concession stands. The renovation brings about a never-before-seen restaurant in the stadium overlooking the field.  The updated  modernized architecture would also better blend with Chicago’s world-class architecture as opposed to the current “flying saucer” appearance of the stadium.

The biggest change in the stadium comes in the inclusion of a dome to not only make it home to the Chicago Bears but allow it to be able to host the Super Bowl. When the football season is over, the updated field could be transformed into a basketball court, or a concert stage, making Soldier Field not only a football stadium but a year-round attraction for entertainment. 

One of the largest problems of Soldier Field is its seating capacity. Soldier Field only holds 61,500 people, the smallest seating capacity of all the NFL stadiums.  But the reimagined Soldier Field increases the seating capacity to 70,000 and adds six new private suites making it about average in seating. 

Though it addressed this dire issue, it failed to address the main issue: parking. With more seats, Soldier Field will need more parking, but with no changes to parking, cars will still have to find places outside of the stadium to park, overcrowding the streets. 

Presented with two options, The Chicago Bears must choose whether to stay in Chicago or leave. The reimagined Soldier Field offers some great new renovations to the stadium to make it up to date, but doesn’t tackle its biggest problem. Given the fact that the City of Chicago owns Soldier Field, the Bears will never truly be able to tailor that space to their needs or desires.  

Pursuing the Arlington Park has almost the same plans, just with more parking, seating, and economic opportunity for the Bears, locals, and the mixed-use district.  Given the fact that the Bears would then be able to generate revenue in new ways–other than ticket sales and merchandising that they are limited to in Soldier–there is a real opportunity for their financial growth.   

There are not many  reasons for the Chicago Bears to stay in Soldier Field when the Arlington Park site has everything that the city offers and more.  The Bear’s 101-year stay in Chicago might come to an end unless the city can address its major issues and give the Bears an offer they can’t refuse in order  to stay in Chicago.

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