From a new Bears home to Ravinia-style concerts, Arlington Park redevelopment ideas abound
A recurring topic on Chicago sports talk radio, online message boards and social media for years, the possibility of a Chicago Bears move to Arlington Heights is back in the spotlight -- one of many options being floated by local officials and residents now that the fate of Arlington International Racecourse seems sealed.
Although some wish the historic 94-year-old racetrack would continue to host horses, many started weighing in with redevelopment ideas almost immediately after track owner Churchill Downs Inc. announced plans Tuesday afternoon to put the sprawling 326-acre property up for sale.
That included much discussion in community groups on Facebook, and specifically on the Daily Herald's Facebook page, where ideas ranged from a new Bears stadium to a Ravinia-style concert venue. Some local residents favored a sports complex that could also be used recreationally by youths.
Many didn't want to see homes built there, but some were open to it.
Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes is one of those who had hoped Arlington Park would remain a racetrack for decades to come. Still, he has put a number of potential redevelopment options on the table under the heading "mixed use."
"Not only including retail, commercial and residential, but perhaps entertainment as well," Hayes said. "It could come in a number of different forms, whether it be a stadium or music venue. Those kind of things. There's so many different possibilities."
Hayes noted the property's location near the Metra rail line, Route 53 expressway and major intersections are a built-in advantage, and could yield offers from interested buyers far and wide.
Whatever Churchill Downs and developers bring to village officials -- who hold control over zoning and land use regulations -- Hayes said the village will "strongly encourage" certain types of uses to help guide redevelopment.
"Our goal, and it's my obligation and the village board's obligation to ensure whatever property is in Arlington Heights, is put to its highest and best use for the benefit of residents and taxpayers," Hayes said.
Discussion of the future of the racetrack was a topic during a forum for village board candidates held only days before Churchill's announcement.
Trustee Jim Tinaglia, a local architect, said he's already drawn up conceptual plans for a year-round, domed stadium that could attract both professional football and baseball teams. When the teams aren't playing, the venue could host large-scale concerts and smaller events to fill the facility on a regular basis, Tinaglia said.
He doesn't think the site should be developed as a "traditional" mixed-use concept, with retail, homes and apartments.
"An enormous amount of revenue comes to our budget every year because of that place. And when that goes away, it's going to be my goal to replace that with an equal or better amount of tax dollar revenue, because everything that happens commercially affects everybody residentially," Tinaglia said during the Feb. 18 forum with the Daily Herald Editorial Board. "This is a big facility that needs to be a big final solution."
Trustee Rich Baldino said he's keeping an open mind about a variety of uses for the site, noting that "everything's on the table."
Others, like first-time candidates Nicolle Grasse and Wendy Dunnington, suggest the site would be well-suited for a concert venue modeled off Ravinia that could also generate income for the town, while preserving much of the park's open green space.
Jim Bertucci envisions a similar approach to how the former Glenview Naval Air Station was redeveloped with mixed uses.
And Will Beiersdorf said whatever is done on the Arlington Park site, it should be done in "best faith" on behalf of residents, mindful of the congestion that any large-scale redevelopment could bring.
Officials in neighboring towns could also influence what happens with the racetrack property, bordered by Palatine to the north and Rolling Meadows to the west and south.
While Palatine Mayor Jim Schwantz declined to weigh in Wednesday, Rolling Meadows Mayor Joe Gallo said the sale and potential redevelopment of Arlington Park presents an opportunity for a wider regional discussion about how the site could benefit economic development in the Northwest suburbs overall.
"This is a great opportunity for our economic development committee and city staff and Arlington Heights executive management to get together and discuss the region as a whole," said Gallo, who suggested those discussions could also include officials in Palatine and Schaumburg. "And understand what we currently have in our economic purview and what could potentially complement it, and what gaps we could fill there so that property serves a nice complementary component to serving all of our communities."