In September, the Chicago Bears signed a $197.2 million purchase and sale agreement for Arlington Park, a 326-acre property in the suburb of Arlington Heights. While the deal is not yet finalized, it does mean the franchise is actively exploring its potential. The move would mean that the team has to pay $84 million in order to break its lease on Soldier Field, which was not set to expire until 2033.
Chicago is a phenomenal sports town, with multiple pro teams, so it's natural that this news comes as a major disappointment to the city's football fans. But amid the boos, there are cheers coming from real estate investors who see great opportunities that will come from the new home field advantage.
A touchdown for real estate?
There's a lot going for the Bears' new digs at the site of the racecourse, which closed in September. The location is great -- it's right off a major highway, and it already has a dedicated stop on the Metra commuter rail. The huge site has plenty of parking and great potential for adding restaurants, bars, and other entertainment spots, all of which will vie for fans on game days.
Ronald Max, a strategic real estate investment advisor at Real Estate Bees, lives near the Bears' new site and says the location is ideal for the stadium, adding: "Much of the benefit for the surrounding suburbs will be from opposing fans traveling to see their team. Schaumburg, a large nearby suburb, has plenty of hotel, retail, and restaurant offerings to accommodate that demand. Now, if [the stadium hosts] a Super Bowl, that will have a major impact."
If the Bears build a domed field -- something they didn't do when they renovated Soldier Field -- the Chicago area could have a shot at hosting a future Super Bowl. Max says there's even more potential for commercial real estate with an enclosed field. For example, the stadium could attract conventions, which would benefit area hotels, restaurants, bars, and retail stores.
The impact of a pro sports team on a town
When it was announced back in 2014 that SoFi Stadium would be built to house the Los Angeles Rams in Inglewood, California, property prices began to rise almost immediately. The median home price in 2014 was $298,000, and it rose 63% to $485,000 by 2018, according to a Property Shark report -- and the stadium hadn't even opened yet. By the time it did open in 2020, the median Inglewood home price was $670,000, according to Redfin.
Julie Busby is a real estate broker at Compass Real Estate and founder of The Busby Group in Chicago. She says there will likely be an increase in home values when a stadium is built in an area. "There's a caveat of making sure it's executed to make sure there's traffic control, to make sure you keep the integrity of that community while also enhancing it," she says.
Stadiums are sometimes seen as a way to revitalize an area, but Busby notes that Arlington Heights is already a desirable place to live with a "wonderful personality of a neighborhood."
But data shows there's more to it than just an increase in property prices when a team comes to town. Economist George Carlino and Edward Coulson, a professor of economics, analyzed the housing market in every city with an NFL franchise between 1993 and 1999, a period that saw the most relocations of teams in the league's history. Rents not only increased 8% in central cities, but the residents were ready to work for 4% less to support the building and development of new team facilities. The study concluded that when a team comes to town, the overall quality of life improves.
The bottom line
The Bears' proposed departure does come as a blow to the Windy City's legions of sports fans, but there are plenty of pro teams left to maintain Chicago's reputation as an awesome city for sports. The team's move to Arlington Heights can be seen as a sharing of the wealth, and no one is more ready for it than real estate investors.