From mixed use to migrant landing zone, Arlington Park ideas vary — if the Bears don’t come to town

Amid the Chicago Bears’ renewed interest in a stadium on the city’s lakefront, what could become of the 326-acre Arlington Heights property if the NFL franchise chooses not to build on the land it has owned for a little more than a year?

Speculation swirls over the uncertain future of the prime real estate at Euclid and Wilke roads — the former Arlington Park racetrack, where the grandstand, old barns and other buildings have been torn down.

From a mixed-use district — ubiquitous in community development and planning circles these days — to a migrant welcoming center, which was suggested by a local politician in the wake of the Bears’ announcement last week, here is a look at some options for the sprawling site if the team doesn’t come to town.

Mixed use

The Bears’ proposed stadium was only one part of the team’s ambitious plans for the Arlington Park property unveiled in September 2022. The domed structure was envisioned in the northwest corner of the site, but nearly two-thirds of the property was devoted to a transit-oriented, mixed-use district with restaurants, stores, offices, a hotel, a performance venue, a fitness center, multifamily housing, parks and open spaces.

Stadium or not, a variety of complementary uses could be the most likely Plan B for the Arlington Park property, observers believe. They point to the nearby multi-phased redevelopment of the former Motorola property in Schaumburg into the Veridian, a combination of stores, restaurants, apartments, townhouses, offices and parks at Algonquin and Meacham roads. Another often-cited example is the transformation of the former 1,121-acre Naval Air Station Glenview into The Glen.

A rendering shows The District at Veridian, a mixed-use development of more than a million square feet of retail, restaurant, residential and office space on 30 acres along Meacham Road in Schaumburg. Courtesy of village of Schaumburg

“I think it will be mixed use of some kind,” said Mark Meskauskas, president of Arlington Heights-based Brian Properties, a commercial real estate firm. “What does that entail on how much, and the product type, I don’t know.”

Meskauskas acknowledged the concerns — particularly of the downtown Arlington Heights business community — that an infusion of retail and restaurants on the old racetrack site would cannibalize what local leaders have spent decades building little more than a mile away. And there are other burgeoning downtowns along the train line in Palatine and Mount Prospect, Meskauskas added.

“Is more of that needed? I don’t think so,” he said. “I think that mixed use means more things of a couple different product types on the property, and good thought-out development with some kind of master plan. That could take 20 to 30 years.”


Whether separate or a part of a larger district, a host of sports and entertainment venues — albeit, not as big as an NFL stadium — have been floated for the site.

Heather Larson, president of Meet Chicago Northwest, the area’s convention and visitors bureau, said her organization’s enthusiasm to welcome the Bears to Arlington Heights hasn’t wavered. But in general, she said, stakeholders in the region have entertained the idea of bringing in additional sports facilities to the area, including multi-court pickleball, side-by-side ice rinks, cricket pitches and even a semiprofessional soccer team.

Others have suggested the site would be well-suited for a concert venue modeled off Ravinia in Highland Park.


Another piece of any mixed-use area is a residential component, but how much village officials would entertain — and local school districts might be willing to accept — is another question.

The Bears’ original plans called for a series of residential buildings — transitioning from higher-density, multifamily properties of four to eight stories closer to the train station, to lower-density townhouses and multifamily units of two to four stories moving south and east through the site.

Master planners hired by the Chicago Bears presented plans in September 2022 for a mixed-use district that would have a residential component near the existing train station at Arlington Park. Courtesy of Chicago Bears

Officials from the three Arlington Heights-area school districts — which have been engaged in a property tax battle with the Bears — have been frustrated by the lack of detail of the Bears’ housing plan, over concerns for increased student enrollment. An urban planner hired by Palatine Township Elementary District 15 estimated there could be as many as 350 new students there — enough for a new school.

Amid those concerns, Meskauskas said, almost everything but single-family homes could be on the table.


A July 2023 appraisal conducted on behalf of District 15, Northwest Suburban High School District 214 and Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 acknowledged the Bears’ concept plan would be the “highest and best use” for the site. But the next best thing, according to the MaRous & Company report, would be a mix of distribution and data centers.

The suggestion prompted an immediate response from Charles Witherington-Perkins, Arlington Heights’ director of planning and community development: Data centers, warehouses, logistics and distribution facilities on the Arlington Park site are prohibited by the village’s zoning code.

Charles Witherington-Perkins leads the planning and community development department in Arlington Heights. Daily Herald File Photo 2014

Though land values are currently highest in the market for those types of things, they “would not be representative or consistent with the village’s current thinking on the land uses for this iconic property,” Perkins wrote in an email to the three school district superintendents. “ … the village has stated that to replace the iconic Arlington International Racecourse would take a special type of development that would be regionally or nationally significant.”

In fact, right after then-owner Churchill Downs Inc. put the racetrack up for sale in 2021, village officials started drafting a so-called overlay zoning district that expressly prohibits wholesale offices, including warehouses and storerooms. Other banned uses on the village’s 23-item list include adult businesses, car washes, currency exchanges, kiddie parks and funeral parlors.

Other ideas

State Rep. Mark Walker, an Arlington Heights Democrat whose district is just south of the racetrack site, said he caught flack from some for the written statement he released Monday morning after the Bears announced their pivot away from Arlington Park.

In it, Walker suggested the property could be suited for new business development, affordable housing or welcoming centers for new arrivals.

State Rep. Mark Walker

“The first priority is economic development focused around business,” Walker told the Daily Herald. “The reason I mentioned the other two things was a signal that we could go any direction. But I have no plans on the latter two at all. People have blown up about it. My reaction was, well, don’t take it that seriously.”

For their part, Arlington Heights village officials declined to talk about potential Plan B options or what-ifs after the Bears announcement last week, saying their focus remains on the Bears’ redevelopment of Arlington Park.

∙ Daily Herald staff writer Eric Peterson contributed to this report.

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