Editorial: Arlington Park property a community gathering place
Arlington Park has provided many benefits to the Northwest suburbs through the years.
The horse racing track at Euclid Avenue and Wilke Road put Arlington Heights on the map and tax revenue in the village's coffers.
It also served as a community gathering place. Whatever happens to the space, we hope the site doesn't lose that function.
"Thirty years after its reconstruction, it remains a unique and beautiful facility for horse racing and many other community events," state Rep. Tom Morrison said after the announcement in February that the 326-acre property was for sale. "They've even helped most recently by serving as a COVID-19 testing site."
Indeed, you did not need to watch a race or place a bet to set foot inside Arlington Park and see its magnificence.
With more than 100,000 square feet of adaptable indoor exhibition and meeting spaces, as well as banquet facilities, Arlington Park played host to a variety of events beyond live horse racing.
It became a popular venue for meetings, conferences, expos and trade shows. And the annual Fourth of July fireworks celebration at the track was among the largest in the state.
Will all those types of events disappear if the Chicago Bears follow through on plans to buy Arlington Park from Churchill Downs Inc. for $197.2 million?
We certainly hope not.
After a catastrophic fire destroyed the old Arlington Park in 1985, Richard Duchossois was encouraged to reconstruct the track in Arlington Heights. He responded by giving the community a beautiful facility of which it could be proud.
Duchossois designed the track to be a family-friendly environment. And when it opened, he scheduled many community events, including the fireworks show.
Duchossois sold Arlington Park to Churchill Downs in 2000. Still, home improvement shows, pet expos, and concerts continued at the site. Local and regional planners working with the new owner should do all they can to ensure that mindset continues.
If the Bears buy the property, the deal isn't expected to be finalized until late 2022 or early 2023. Observers believe that 2026 is the earliest the new stadium could be completed.
We are confident the Bears would build a world-class stadium. Still, we hope the team's owners see the value in creating a facility that can be used for more than just sporting events.
Not everyone in the suburbs is a Bears fan. Some people in the suburbs don't even like football.
But you didn't have to like horse racing to enjoy Arlington Park.
You shouldn't need to be a sports fan to enjoy the property's next chapter.