Churchill Downs announced this week that it plans to sell Arlington International Racecourse. And the use of the word “redevelopment” in its statement suggests that Arlington won’t remain a horse track.
But could it be redeveloped into something as ambitious as, let’s say, a football mega-stadium?
While it’s a mere hypothetical at this point, there has been plenty of Bears to Arlington Heights chatter over the past few days, most notably from NBC Sports Chicago Bears insider Adam Hoge.
The Chicago Bears currently play at Soldier Field, located between downtown and Lake Michigan. Some, though, believe the facility is outdated, among other issues.
So, why could a Bears-Arlington Heights marriage make sense? Here are a few reasons.
Chicago could host Super Bowls, Final Fours, etc.
Of course, the games would be at Arlington Heights, which is about a 35-minute drive from downtown Chicago.
But the city of Chicago would still benefit from the tourism and general spotlight. There is also a Metra train stop at Arlington International, only footsteps away from the park.
If the Bears moved to Arlington Heights, they could build an 80,000-seat, multi-purpose facility with a retractable roof. That would allow them to host Super Bowls, Final Fours and other big events that they’re currently missing out on.
Fellow cold-weather city Minneapolis has been able to host both events. Chicago won’t sniff either as long as it lacks such a facility.
Could build a football entertainment district in Arlington Heights
Arlington International sits on 326 acres of land.
SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, which will host next year’s Super Bowl, sits on 298 acres of land. And it’s generally regarded as an incredibly nice facility.
Also, once the redevelopment project is complete, SoFi Stadium will be surrounded by restaurants, bars, hotels, nightlife, etc.
Soldier Field, as most Chicagoans know, is essentially located on a mini-island. While beautiful, that makes it extremely difficult to get to and there is also a lack of everything mentioned above nearby.
Even tailgating is a struggle, and given how much land is available at Arlington, the Bears could reinvent their tailgating atmosphere and entire gameday experience.
Arlington is easy to get to, even if not in Chicago
At first thought, a reason to dislike this idea is that Arlington Heights seems like it’s far away from Chicago.
But Arlington International is easily accessible, whereas Soldier Field is not.
As mentioned previously, there is a train stop steps away from the park, and the drive is just over a half-hour from downtown.
Soldier Field, meanwhile, doesn’t have any convenient public transportation options. Unless you’re from the South Loop, it’s difficult to access even if you live in Chicago — and that doesn’t take suburbanites into account.
Not only does Arlington International have a train stop, but it’s also right off of I-90.
For a lot of Chicagoans, a move to Arlington Heights wouldn’t necessarily increase commute time — they’d just be traveling a farther distance instead of sitting in traffic.
Is it realistic?
While it’s a conceivable idea, it likely won’t happen for a few reasons.
First, the Bears reportedly have a lease with Soldier Field that doesn’t expire until 2033. It would take some maneuvering to get out of it.
The second issue is the funding. The McCaskey Family, which owns the Bears, doesn’t have other business ventures — the Bears are the business.
So, while the McCaskeys aren’t crying poor, they are not the prototypical billionaire sports owners you might imagine. For this to happen, several unified parties would need to come up with a creative funding solution.
Finally, there’s the “tradition” intangible. While Soldier Field has its flaws, it’s a Bears staple, and the Bears to Arlington Heights idea is incredibly polarizing.
The Bears may not be great at football, but their brand is quite strong, and Soldier Field is baked into that.
At the very least, it’s a fun, imaginative exercise. If it’s more, well, life as a Bears fan would certainly change.