'I'm not giving up': Losing bidder still hopes to preserve racing at Arlington
How close was Arlington Park to remaining a thoroughbred horse racing track instead of the possible new suburban home of the Chicago Bears?
Not close at all, according to Roy Arnold, the head of a consortium of developers and investors that sought to preserve horse racing at Arlington.
"The amount (of the winning bid) quoted in the press is higher than I expected," Arnold said of the NFL franchise's final $197.2 million offer for the prime real estate in Arlington Heights.
Arnold believes his group and the Bears were the top two finalists at the conclusion of Churchill Downs Inc.'s seven-month bidding process for the 326 acres at Euclid Road and Wilke Avenue.
"I think our bid was competitive, but it wasn't that high," said Arnold, who now runs Endeavor Hotel Group, a hospitality consulting and investment group, after a stint as Arlington Park president from 2006 to 2011.
Arnold said there were about 30 proposals submitted to Churchill ahead of a mid-June deadline, and he and the Bears were the two left standing in August after the company and its broker CBRE narrowed down the pool during four rounds of bidding. The number of submittals -- mostly from developers proposing various mixed-use projects, some with more or less amounts of residential -- was winnowed down to seven or eight, then three, then two, as offers were increased, Arnold said.
"We were higher than $120 million and expressed a willingness to go higher," Arnold said. "I still believe when the bids were originally put in, we were on par with the Bears. I believe, probably in negotiations, the price tag went up to get the deal done.
"I think if the Bears require a longer period of time to close -- to disentangle themselves from the city and secure NFL approval -- that Churchill came back -- and I would say this is legitimate -- and may have said, 'OK, we'll do that, but there's a premium.' And that's where that number comes from," he added.
"Time is money."
Churchill and the Bears announced Wednesday they inked a purchase and sale agreement this week for the iconic venue that has hosted horse racing since 1927. But they cautioned that a final deal is still a ways away, since the closing is subject to the satisfaction of various conditions.
The closing could happen in late 2022 or early 2023, officials said.
Early signals from Churchill brass indicated they were interested in "a quick close" so they'd have capital to fund other projects, Arnold said. So his consortium offered to reduce their requested inspection period for the property in order to buy it this year, and not have any contingencies on financing or municipal zoning approvals.
They also decided to up the ante by $10 million.
"And frankly, that's it. That's as far as we thought we could go," said Arnold, especially without the guarantee of securing additional state gambling permissions for slots and table games.
Arnold said he hasn't heard from anyone at Churchill or CBRE for about a month, as talks with him went silent and negotiations with the Bears ramped up.
He now plans to reach out to Bears President and CEO Ted Phillips in hopes of forming a partnership whereby Arlington's oval and stately six-story grandstand could remain intact for racing on 125 acres of the sprawling site, next to the new Bears stadium.
Arnold's proposal initially called for construction of a mid-size arena suitable to host a minor league hockey team, a 60-acre entertainment district, a low-density housing development of some 300 units and a 60-acre industrial space.
Though the Bears haven't officially revealed their plans for the Arlington property, the redevelopment is likely to include similar ancillary uses next to a new stadium.
"I'm disappointed, obviously, but I'm not giving up," Arnold said.