Arlington Heights OKs billboard for Arlington Park

Posted3/8/2017 5:30 AM

Arlington International Racecourse will install a 20-by-60-foot digital billboard along Route 53 near its practice track in Arlington Heights, which means the facility won't pursue similar plans for a billboard nearby in Rolling Meadows.

Arlington Heights trustees unanimously approved the racecourse's request this week for the 95-foot-tall billboard near Route 53 and Northwest Highway that would allow the track to promote itself and collect extra revenue from outside advertisers. The double-sided billboard -- showing advertisements that change every 10 seconds -- could generate $120,000 in net revenue for the racecourse every year.


Electronic changeable signs -- and those promoting off-premises advertising -- are currently prohibited by village code. But a review of the standards last year by the village board, staff and design commission determined signs for tourism venues should be considered on a case-by-case basis.

The design commission last month recommended denial of Arlington Park's billboard request, since the sign would be about more than just the racecourse, and arguing that Arlington Heights is "an exceptional community with exceptional standards," according to Charles Witherington-Perkins, the village's director of planning and community development.

But trustees on Monday agreed with racecourse officials that the track has demonstrated a hardship in asking for the billboard. Revenues on horse race wagering have declined 40 percent over the past decade, prompting the track to host trade shows, car company "ride and drive" events and other special events outside of the traditional racing schedule.

"I cant think of a better exception than one of our major tourism attractions and major employers," said Mayor Tom Hayes. "This qualifies for an exception to our general policy."

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In response to a question from Hayes, Witherington-Perkins said there would be no light spillover to residential properties, since the nearest residences are at the Arlington Downs development on Euclid Avenue.

There's also eight existing billboards within proximity of the proposed Arlington Park billboard that sit within Rolling Meadows.

Last month, Arlington Park officials pitched their billboard idea to Rolling Meadows' city council for a spot on the west side of the track's property near Rohlwing Road and Industrial Drive. Aldermen appeared favorable to it, but a final vote wouldn't come until May 9.

At the same time, a similar billboard proposal was making its way through Arlington Heights' approval process, culminating in Monday's positive vote from trustees.

Tony Petrillo, the track's general manager, said only the sign in Arlington Heights would be installed. Because horses arrive for training on April 10, plans are to begin work immediately.

It will cost $750,000 to put up, and take 3½ years or more to recoup those costs before Arlington starts turning a profit.

At the village's request, "Arlington International" will be placed below the sign -- distinguishing it from other Route 53 billboards. The track has also offered the village the right to use the sign for promotional purposes at no cost.

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