Video: Mayor Lori Lightfoot had a lot to say about the Bears moving to Arlington Heights and the future of Soldier Field. Our Spotlight Politics team gets into that and more. (Produced by Alex Silets)
Mayor Lori Lightfoot vowed Wednesday to try to reach an agreement to keep the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field, but acknowledged there might not be much she can do to keep the team from leaving their leased lakefront home of 50 years — or from keeping the city’s name.
The team’s owners announced Wednesday morning they had reached an agreement to buy the former Arlington International Racecourse property for $197.2 million.
“Life goes on,” Lightfoot told reporters after presiding over a graduation of new members of the Chicago Fire Department. Both the Chargers and the Rams play outside Los Angeles while the Jets and Giants play outside New York City.
Bears President and CEO Ted Phillips said in a statement the agreement represents the “critical next step in continuing our exploration of the property and its potential.” The deal could be completed in late 2022 or early 2023, officials said.
A Bears season ticket holder, Lightfoot said she would approach negotiations to keep the Bears in Chicago not as a fan but as the steward of taxpayer funds and as a “business decision.”
Lightfoot said she was focused on making sure that Chicago gets the most out of the “iconic asset” of Soldier Field, which is also home to the Chicago Fire soccer team.
“We’ve got to think bigger,” Lightfoot said, adding that the city should not allow the stadium — and its parking lots — to be unused outside of football season, which runs from August to early January. “Soldier Field is a very sought-after venue. The sky’s the limit for what we can do there.”
The mayor said she has charged a working group with developing plans to reenvision how Soldier Field as well as the Museum Campus are used by Chicagoans.
Lightfoot’s remarks on Wednesday represent a much different tone than the one she struck in June, when the Bears announced the team’s bid to buy the 100-year-old Arlington International Racecourse property, which went up for sale in February.
Lightfoot called the bid a negotiating tactic, pledged to keep the Bears from using the Chicago name if they leave Solider Field and blasted the team’s poor performance on the field while calling the debate “noise.”
The mayor said it would not be accurate to suggest that her remarks helped contribute to the souring of the relationship between the city and its beloved football team, which last won the Super Bowl in 1985.
Instead, the blame rests with former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, who inked the agreement to keep the Bears at Soldier Field after a 2002 renovation that cost $690 million, Lightfoot said. The stadium has the smallest capacity of any National Football League stadium, with 62,000 seats.
The Bears management canceled a meeting with the mayor and her team on Tuesday and has yet to tell the city what it needs to extend its lease at Soldier Field, Lightfoot said.
“I can’t negotiate a deal with myself,” Lightfoot said, adding that she will not allow the team to break its lease with the Chicago Park District before 2033 without a significant payment.
If the Bears finalize their plans to leave Soldier Field in late 2022 or early 2023, the fate of the Monsters of the Midway could complicate Lightfoot’s efforts to win another term as Chicago mayor — and potentially tarnish her legacy.