SBJ/September 7 - 13, 1998/No Topic Name

The real deal? Bears may buy land in suburbs

The Chicago Bears have moved one step closer to building a new stadium outside Chicago by signing an option to buy a 70-acre tract in the city's northwest suburbs.

But is the deal simply more posturing from the team, which has a history of eyeing suburban stadium sites and not taking action, or is the team serious about moving out of storied Soldier Field?

In the past, the Bears have taken a similar approach to a handful of other suburban sites, only to back off. In 1996, for instance, the team unsuccessfully dealt with the city on a plan to build a new facility next to McCormick Place, Chicago's giant convention center located next to Soldier Field.

The new site lies about 20 miles northwest of downtown Chicago in Elk Grove Village, where the Bears are considering building a new stadium and conference center. The new stadium would replace 65,000-seat Soldier Field, where the Bears say they have been saddled with an unfavorable lease that expires in late 1999.

"This is a piece of the Bears' due diligence, and they still have a lot of work to do," said Elk Grove Village President Craig Johnson. "I know that the Bears have had other options in the past, and nothing has come to fruition. We've known from day one that they are still seriously talking with [Chicago officials], so we will just wait and see. That's why we will make sure that they come in under our guidelines."

Bears officials would not comment on the deal but did confirm that the team had signed the letter of intent. Terms of the option were not disclosed, but the agreement allows the team more than a year to decide whether to buy the property, giving the Bears leverage as they look to build a new facility or reach a more profitable lease at Soldier Field.

By today's standards, Soldier Field is a dinosaur. The facility dates to 1920, and the Bears have played there since 1971.

Team officials complain that the stadium is the least fan-friendly facility in the NFL with no Jumbotron screen and some of the worst sight lines of any stadium in the league.

But it's their lease that most frustrates the Bears.

The team must share revenue from tickets, signage, 116 of the stadium's luxury boxes and concessions with the Chicago Park District, which runs Soldier Field. In addition, the Bears pay the city $1 million for 10 dates.

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