Last billboards in Arlington Heights — other than one owned by Bears — to come down

With approvals due to expire next month for the Bears’ revenue-generating billboard at Arlington Park, Arlington Heights village board members this week told a small-business owner to tear his old billboards down.

The village is one of the few towns in the area that prohibits such signage, but has made exceptions, such as the 20-by-60-foot double-sided digital sign installed on the west side of the racetrack site in 2017.

The only other billboards in the Northwest suburb have been there far longer: two double-sided static signs outside the Arlington Performance Center auto repair shop at 315 W. Rand Road. The signs are considered legally nonconforming, having been installed prior to the site’s 1981 annexation into Arlington Heights.

But when shop owner Chris Plummer came to the village board Monday night seeking approval to build five townhouses behind the repair shop, trustees attached a condition: the signs must come down within five years.

“What can you do to help us with beautification, so to speak, because there’s a reason why we don’t allow billboards anymore,” said Trustee Jim Bertucci, noting “nice” condominiums and newer buildings just down the block, and an in-progress Rand Road corridor beautification plan.

“I think we’ve really done our part to beautify,” Plummer replied, in reference to new parkway trees, top soil and grass that will replace asphalt in front of the property. “No. I just think that revenue source (from the signs) is part of my business plan.”

  A landscaping plan calls for parkway trees, top soil and grass to replace asphalt in front of Arlington Performance Center at 315 W. Rand Road in Arlington Heights. Joe Lewnard/

Plummer said he makes $8,000 a year off the signs — a number that has declined over the years, but is still used to pay property taxes.

“It provides revenue. The taxes are high there. So I’d like to keep it,” he said.

But board members decided to give Plummer five years to take down the two signs on the southeast corner of his property, saying this may be their only opportunity to compel the removal. Plummer said his current advertising contract expires in four years.

At least two board members declared they might be willing to let the Bears keep their electronic billboard along Route 53, however.

  Zoning permissions for an electronic billboard now controlled by the Chicago Bears along Route 53 in Arlington Heights are due to expire June 30. Paul Valade/

“I think that is really a one-off. It’s such a unique location on (Route) 53 there, and it was for a specific purpose,” Mayor Tom Hayes said. “I think this one — you’re really talking apples and oranges. They’re both billboards, but this one is so different for me. We have to look at these on a case-by-case basis on occasion, but I do agree with the policy of not having billboards in town generally.”

“And this one is just in such a location on Rand Road where we really need to clean that up. So this is our opportunity.”

Trustee Scott Shirley acknowledged it could be “hypocritical” to mandate teardown of one set of billboards and not the other, but said the Bears’ billboard along the highway is “different” than the auto shop’s.

The digital sign atop a 95-foot pole was installed at Arlington Park in 2017 by then-owner Churchill Downs Inc. In granting the sign permissions, board members were sympathetic to the financial condition of the town’s major tourist attraction that had experienced a precipitous decline in horse race wagering.

When proposed, the billboard was said to generate $120,000 in annual net revenue for the track.

Though the 2017 approval came with the caveat that the sign come down were the track to cease operations, the board granted Churchill an extension in 2022. And after the Bears closed on their purchase of the 326-acre property in 2023, the elected panel agreed to another extension, which is now due to expire June 30.

Village Manager Randy Recklaus said discussions are ongoing with Bears officials if they want to keep the billboard. If so, the issue could return to the board for a vote.

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