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Will they leave Soldier Field for Arlington Heights?

The Chicago Bears signed a purchase agreement for Arlington International Racecourse in September 2021, a move that takes the team a step closer toward securing property for a new stadium and leaving their longtime home at Soldier Field.

Soldier Field, which is owned by the Chicago Park District, holds 61,500 fans, the smallest capacity in the NFL. The Bears also would be able to develop the 326-acre property around the stadium with shopping, dining and entertainment.

Here’s what to know about the possible move from Soldier Field, with reaction from City Hall to Arlington Heights.

Landmark Development shared these images of what a reimagined Soldier Field could look like as the Chicago Bears consider a deal to leave the historic South Loop field and build a new stadium in Arlington Heights.

Landmark Development unveiled a video tour of a “reimagined” Soldier Field, including expanded seating, premium club lounges, food halls and an adjacent concert venue, topped by a dome to attract fair-weather football fans and year-round visitors.

“This is a proposal that we think sets a compelling case for a team like the Bears to want to stay at Soldier Field,” said Bob Dunn, president of Landmark Development.

The city broadly reiterated its support for Dunn’s latest vision for Soldier Field, and the mission to keep the Bears.

“Mayor Lightfoot has been vocal about the need to reimagine the experience at Soldier Field,” Cesar Rodriguez, spokesman for the mayor’s office, said in a statement. “The City still believes that Soldier Field is the best home for the Chicago Bears and continues to engage with community partners and members of the Museum Campus Working Group to explore the future of the stadium.”

Arlington Heights trustees laid another piece of groundwork Nov. 7 that would allow the Bears to proceed with their plans for a massive redevelopment of Arlington International Racecourse by approving a zoning change that would allow a sports betting facility in the area.

A sports betting facility is part of the Bears’ $5 billion proposal to create a new NFL stadium and a mixed-use commercial and residential district on the 326-acre Arlington Park site. Trustees also approved a “road map” agreement intended to guide further negotiations around the site, for which the team signed a $197.2 million purchase agreement in 2021. Read more here.

While the Bears have called Soldier Field home since 1971, the team has discussed or proposed playing its games elsewhere throughout much of the last 50 years.

Wrigley Field served as the original home venue for the team when it moved to Chicago in 1921 and remained there through 1970. The team won nearly 70% of its home games during that span.

But the Bears were forced to find a new home after the American Football League merged with the National Football League and required stadiums to seat at least 50,000 fans. The team played its last game at Wrigley Field on Dec. 13, 1970, beating the Packers 35-17. Read more here.

Tanesha Wade and George McCaskey listen in as Bears president and CEO Ted Phillips (center) speaks to the crowd during an informational public meeting at Hersey High School in Arlington Heights on Sept. 8, 2022.

Bears Chairman George McCaskey and president/CEO Ted Phillips sat down with the Tribune and a reporter from the Chicago Sun-Times. Here are some of their answers on how the Arlington project will be handled as Phillips prepares to depart, how Phillips reflects on his tenure and much more. Read it here.

The Arlington International Racecourse on Oct. 6, 2021. The Chicago Bears have a deal in place to buy the shuttered racetrack.

If the Bears dare to dream big about a new stadium in Arlington Heights, they can find inspiration in SoFi Stadium, the new star attraction of the NFL.

The league’s largest and most expensive arena and the site of the Super Bowl, SoFi, just outside Los Angeles, is overwhelming fans with its sweeping curves and epic scale. The stadium and its development highlight certain parallels to the Bears’ proposal to buy and redevelop Arlington International Racecourse. Both reflect desires to leave century-old stadiums and home cities for vast sites that allow for planned enclaves of surrounding restaurants, hotels, offices, stores and homes. Read more here.

Fans settle into their seats prior to the start of a game between the Bears and Lions at Soldier Field on Oct. 3, 2021.

Fans were exponentially more understanding than Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and some even expressed a draft day-like optimism that better days are ahead. They dreamed openly of shorter concessions, easier parking, better tailgating opportunities and a domed stadium that protected them from biting winter winds.

“I’ve been to multiple stadiums in the NFL and Soldier Field does not compete with any of them,” Bears season ticket holder Neal Shah of Wheaton said. “On game days, the television crews show an aerial view of the stadium, which is beautiful, but the logistics are terrible.” Read more here.

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