LAKE FOREST – To the surprise of some, the Bears made a move that was even bigger than the one they made on draft night to get their next potential quarterback of the future.
But like that major move to acquire Justin Fields, the announcement made Wednesday is something which the team has done before.
Team president and CEO Ted Phillips made it official that the Bears put in a bid for the Arlington International Racecourse property, which was put up for sale by Churchill Downs Inc. earlier this year.
It’s another attempt by the franchise to see if the “grass is greener” away from Chicago proper, where they’ve called home for all but two seasons in their history. The Bears played in Decatur during their first season in 1920 before moving to Wrigley Field in 1921 where they stayed until 1970.
Since 1971, the Bears have played at Soldier Field with the exception of the 2002 season. That’s when the team moved to Champaign’s Memorial Stadium while their home in Chicago was being remodeled. They’d play their first two preseason games at the University of Illinois before reopening Soldier Field against the Packers on Monday, September 29, 2003.
Over the year, the Bears have entertained the notion of moving outside of the city to a new home in the suburbs. In 1975, the team mulled a move to Arlington Heights near the racetrack, but ended up staying at Soldier Field, as chronicled by the Daily Herald.
In the 1980s and 1990s, there was talk of a domed stadium near McCormick Place – nicknamed “McDome” or even a new stadium in Gary, Indiana dubbed “Planet Park”. No move out of the city was ever made, and the team eventually remodeled Soldier Field to its current configuration in 2002 and 2003.
Now in 2021, the Bears are once again looking outside of the city, perhaps to build a venue which they’d have more control over the stadium since the Chicago Park District owns Soldier Field. It would also allow the team to expand capacity, since their current venue has the lowest capacity in the NFL at 61,500.
Should the team elect to build a dome or retractable roof, it could put the Chicagoland area in the running for major sporting events like the Super Bowl or the NCAA Final Four.
Yet Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot was the one to put the breaks on the talk of a move on Thursday, pointing out that the team is in a lease with the city throught 2033. In her statement on Thursday, she also said that the team is in the midst of a negotiations for improvements to Soldier Field and considers this big for Arlington Park “a negotiating tactic.”
So now begins another round of speculation around a move for the Bears from Chicago to the suburbs, with plenty of chapters to the story left to play out.