Arlington Heights formally opens doors to Bears, but Chicago still hopes to stop team from leaving

While officials at Chicago city hall try to stop the Bears from leaving town, those at Arlington Heights village hall have formally opened their doors to the team in a bid to lure them to the suburbs.

It's the tale of two cities and the storied NFL franchise, which has signed a $197.2 million purchase agreement to buy Arlington Park but still faces a lengthy process that includes securing village approvals, obtaining financing and getting out of its Soldier Field lease.

Mayors for both towns provided updates this week on some of the discussions taking place behind closed doors in the weeks since the bombshell Sept. 29 announcement that the team has a deal for the 326-acre racetrack property.

Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes said he and his staff have initiated discussions with team management about the local zoning and approval process. Those conversations included a list of “what we need from them, what they need from us, and kind of an understanding of a general timeline,” Hayes said.

“We've initiated that process. But we don't have any more specific details in terms of what they're proposing,” Hayes said. “I know they're going through their due diligence process and this is part of that due diligence — understanding what they need to do to get approval from us in order to feel comfortable where they could close on the sale.”

Hayes confirmed that Bears Chairman George McCaskey and team President Ted Phillips recently toured the expansive site at Euclid Road and Wilke Avenue, as first reported Oct. 13 by Daily Herald columnist Jim O'Donnell. Hayes said it's likely they've been to the racetrack before, but never had they seen individual buildings and different areas of the track up close.

The mayor said he wasn't part of the tour, which was conducted by the track management staff.

It's unclear when more specifics about the Bears' plans would be revealed or when the first public meeting to go over them at village hall would occur. But it's expected in the coming months, ahead of a closing on the sale anticipated in late 2022 or early 2023.

Meanwhile, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot isn't giving up on keeping the Bears in the city. But she's also indicated a deal for any possible upgrades at Soldier Field would have to make fiscal sense.

“I'm a longtime, now long-suffering Bears season ticket holder, so I'm going to keep working to keep them in Chicago,” Lightfoot said Monday morning during an interview on WSCR 670-AM The Score. “But we've also got to look at how do we make this deal better for the taxpayers of Chicago, because there's things that we're not getting out of it that we should get. And so there's a lot of different layers to this conversation, and we're going to keep on talking to them.”

Even as negotiations between the city and Bears continue, Lightfoot reiterated, “They've got to be more forthcoming about what they want.”

The Bears are locked into a lease with the Chicago Park District for Soldier Field that runs until 2033. The team would have to pay a $84 million penalty to get out of it as soon as 2026, which is around the time many observers estimate a new multibillion-dollar stadium in Arlington Heights would be built.

Lightfoot added there are plans later this week to name a team of city officials that would look at the entire campus around Soldier Field and recommend ways to maximize the city's assets there.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot says she's still negotiating with the Chicago Bears in hopes of keeping the team in the city, but she also reiterated this week, "They've got to be more forthcoming about what they want." Chicago Sun-Times via Associated Press, February 2021
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