Four days after the gate went up on Arlington Park’s final race, Churchill Downs Incorporated announced it signed an agreement to sell the storied race track to the Chicago Bears.

Bears Buy Arlington Park
The next time fans watch a sporting event from the former site of Arlington Park International Racecourse, it likely will be Bears instead of horses. The Chicago Bears entered an agreement with track owner Churchill Downs Incorporated to buy the race track property. (Image: Arlington Park)

The story was first reported Tuesday evening by The Athletic. Under the Purchase and Sale Agreement (PSA), the Bears will pay $197.2 million for the 326-acre property located in the northwest suburb of Arlington Heights. According to a statement issued by CDI, the sale will close in late 2022 or early 2023.

“Finalizing the PSA was the critical next step in continuing our exploration of the property and its potential,” Bears President and CEO Ted Phillips said in a statement. “Much work remains to be completed, including working closely with the Village of Arlington Heights and surrounding communities, before we can close on this transaction Our goal is to chart a path forward that allows our team to thrive on the field, Chicagoland to prosper from this endeavor, and the Bears organization to be ensured a strong future.”

The NFL team has made no secret of its desire to escape Soldier Field, where it plays in the smallest stadium in terms of capacity (61,500) in the NFL. The Bears’ lease with the city of Chicago runs through 2033, but the team can buy its way out of the lease as early as 2026. Should they do that, the Bears would pay the city of Chicago $84 million, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Chicago continues to bear down on keeping the Bears

“We remain committed to continuing to work to keep the team in Chicago and have advised the Bears that we remain open to discussions,” Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Illinois taxpayers are still paying off $690 million in Soldier Field renovations from 2001. And any stadium construction likely requires more public funds. Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, the home of the Raiders since 2020, cost $1.9 billion – 38% of which ($750 million) came from public entities, according to the Buffalo News.

The other new stadium, SoFi Stadium – which houses the Rams and Chargers – cost $5.5 billion. That, however, came out of the deep pockets of Rams’ owner Stan Kroenke, who is worth a reported $10.7 billion. This came about after Los Angeles voters repeatedly rejected using taxpayer money on a new stadium.

Expect Illinois taxpayers to ante up again

Forbes estimates the net worth of the McCaskey family, which owns the Bears, at $1.3 billion. Given the cost of doing stadium business these days, public financing is a given here. It doesn’t seem to be an issue from the local government’s standpoint.

“I could not be more excited about the news that the Chicago Bears have signed a Purchase and Sale Agreement to buy the Arlington Park property in our community,” Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes said in a statement. “My goal for any redevelopment has always been to put this prime piece of real estate to its highest and best use, and I can’t think of a higher and better use than this one. There is a long way to go as we begin this journey, and many issues for the community to discuss, but the Village is committed to working with the Bears organization and all stakeholders to explore this opportunity for Arlington Heights and the northwest suburban region.”

Arlington Park defined the state’s horse racing industry

As for CDI, it divests itself of a 94-year-old racetrack that formed the foundation of Illinois racing dating to the days of frequent visitor Al Capone. It opted not to apply for a gaming license for the track due to tax reasons, which signaled that racing’s days may be numbered.

The company put the track up for sale in 2020.

“This has been an extraordinarily competitive bid process,” CDI CEO Bill Carstanjen said in a statement. “Congratulations to the Chicago Bears for their professionalism and perseverance. It is clear they are committed to an exciting vision for their team and their fans. We wish them the greatest success and are excited for the opportunity this brings to the Village of Arlington Heights and the future economic development of this unique property.”