'That's great. But not here': Trustee blasts Bears' mixed-use district plans for Arlington Park

Since the announcement of the Chicago Bears' interest in the Arlington Park property more than a year ago, Arlington Heights' village board has largely maintained a united front in public about their interest in welcoming the team to town.

That includes last week's unanimous vote that leaves open the door to public financing for at least some of the project.

Until this week, Mayor Tom Hayes and Village Manager Randy Recklaus have done much of the talking in public and in the media on the village government's behalf.

Then came Monday night — the first opportunity for the elected trustees to tell Bears representatives what they thought of the team's conceptual redevelopment plans in person.

“Gosh, where to begin,” pondered Trustee Jim Tinaglia, an architect by trade who's in his third term on the panel.

“I believe I'm one of your biggest cheerleaders to get this done. I want you guys to come here. I want this to happen,” Tinaglia told two attorneys and three consultants representing the Bears and sitting in the front row of the village boardroom.

But, he said, “I'm going to tell you right now I'm not a fan of the site plan. And I hope this doesn't blow up and ruin things for you in any way because I'm just one person sitting up here. But I have to be true to myself and true to my thoughts.”

Tinaglia, who founded his Tinaglia Architects firm in Arlington Heights in 1991, blasted the mixed-use transit-oriented development aspect of the Bears' proposal, arguing the plans for restaurants, stores, offices, hotels, homes and more on 206 acres of the 326-acre property would detract from what is in downtown Arlington Heights.

“For a community that doesn't have a downtown — that doesn't have what Arlington Heights already has — that community would die to have this,” Tinaglia said. But he said he didn't believe Arlington Heights' current business owners could survive the competition from the kind of development being proposed.

“Where are the renderings for the stadium? Where are the designs for what this thing will look like?” he asked the Bears representatives. “And why is it we have one-third of the whole site for the Bears and the other two-thirds are for everyday regular beautiful transit-oriented development that could happen in any town for any reason. Take a cornfield. Take an old racetrack. ... And that's great. But not here.”

Cliff Stein, the Bears' general counsel, said the plans presented to the board at a meeting Monday and at a community meeting at John Hersey High School about a month ago are “very preliminary and conceptual.” He said the feedback from trustees — as well as other stakeholders, including the chamber of commerce, businesses and school districts — is valuable.

“We also understand your frustration about not seeing a stadium design,” Stein told Tinaglia. “We're just not there yet. That's what everybody is waiting for. And there are a lot of hurdles we need to overcome, and we will have that if we close (on the property).

“It is our intention for the property to be complimentary of the village and to drive economic revenue to the rest of the businesses in the village,” Stein said.

Hayes said the conceptual site layout and renderings presented so far by the Bears is not a final plan “in any way shape or form,” and that it's the village's job to evaluate plans for all 326 acres of the shuttered racetrack property — not just the 120-acre portion along Route 53 that's envisioned for the football stadium.

Tinaglia countered that he wanted Bears officials to know his thoughts on the initial proposal at the same time he is evaluating a predevelopment agreement with the Bears. That nine-page document — which suggests future zoning changes and public financing that could make the Bears' $5 billion redevelopment vision a reality — earned positive remarks from Tinaglia and the six other board members at the meeting Monday. An official vote is scheduled for Nov. 7.

But if the site plan itself were up for a vote now, Tinaglia said, he'd be a “no.”

After Churchill Downs put the property up for sale in February 2021 — but before the Bears announced they were a bidder — Tinaglia said during an online candidates forum with the Daily Herald that a year-round, domed stadium that could attract both professional football and baseball teams was best-suited for the site. He also said a “traditional” mixed-use concept, with retail, homes and apartments was not the best use for the sprawling property.

On Monday, Tinaglia told the Bears he wanted to see a heavier emphasis on entertainment uses in the plan that is “equal to or better than what's been there for the last 100 years.”

“You bring in the Bears and you bring in something else equally wonderful for the other part: more open spaces, Halas Hall, things that make that whole section more exciting and more beneficial to the public. A place to go, a place to explore — not a place just to go and get a restaurant ticket, or rent an apartment, or take an office space. Because that could happen in any town anywhere. This to me needs to be more.”

Trustee John Scaletta shared Tinaglia's concern about the redevelopment's possible effect on the downtown. He called the mixed-use district “too dense.”

“We have a thriving downtown,” Scaletta said. “We want to keep our downtown thriving. And what we don't want to do is create downtown part two and let downtown part one fail.”

Trustee Mary Beth Canty shared both “concerns and excitement” about the project and says she's heard both from the community.

“I still have some trepidation about the flow of traffic within the site and onto the adjacent roadways,” Canty said. “And I know we have a long way to go. We still have traffic engineers to hear from and there's a lot to be done. But I don't think we can stress to you enough how critically important that is to maintaining what we have.”

At the end of the meeting, Trustee Jim Bertucci pointed to a section in the village agreement with the Bears that says both parties will cooperate in good faith to refine and modify the conceptual site plan.

“I think what Trustee Tinaglia and the rest of us were doing was just talking in good faith,” Bertucci said.

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Jim Tinaglia
  Consulting architects and attorneys for the Chicago Bears presented their conceptual Arlington Park redevelopment plans to the Arlington Heights village board Monday night. Christopher Placek/
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