Mayor: Arlington Park sale announcement could come in next month or two

A public announcement on a selected Arlington Park redevelopment proposal could come in the next one to two months, and the local regulatory approvals process could begin before the end of the year, Arlington Heights' mayor said Monday.

Mayor Tom Hayes said he suspects the timing of owner Churchill Downs Inc.'s decision has to do with the formal end of horse racing operations at the venue Sept. 25.

After putting the 326-acre property up for sale in late February, the Louisville-based corporation set a June 15 deadline for interested parties to submit proposals and offers. So far, company brass have said only they've received numerous bids and are working through the process to make a final selection.

"I think they're relatively close," Hayes said in an interview after a village board meeting Monday night. "They spent two months working through the proposals and talking to the bidders to clarify some of the things that they submitted. I do think they've had enough time to really come up with a list of finalists. I don't know what that number is, but I would hope it's in the single digits."

Hayes' comments came after a meeting where he and trustees formally approved their list of nine strategic priorities for 2022-2023. Third-highest on the list is working to ensure the Arlington Park redevelopment "meets community standards and provides a one of a kind regional destination worthy of the property's legacy."

Ironically, board members discussed those policy goals during a brainstorming and planning retreat last month in the Arlington Park grandstand.

"Our goal is to put the property to its highest and best use and then we envision ... we will have a successful bidder and spend a lot of time staff-wise and board-wise probably working with that developer to ensure that it's a very high-quality development," Hayes said. "So we know that it's going to be a very high priority."

The mayor said he's hoping to learn more from Churchill about the specifics of the potential winning proposal to ensure it's something that could earn village approvals. He said he hasn't had further discussions over the last two months with any of the groups that submitted plans to Churchill, including the Chicago Bears.

The Bears, at least one group that wants to preserve horse racing, and developers proposing a variety of mixed-use developments have publicly revealed that they made offers by the June 15 deadline. Many of those groups also met with village officials ahead of time.

Hayes, who was one of several village leaders at the final Arlington Million Day on Saturday, said he didn't see any of Churchill's upper management there, as they have been in year's past. But he did talk with horsemen who hoped their sport could be preserved at the 94-year-old racing palace.

"A trainer came up to me as I was walking out and said, 'You know, I've been a trainer here for 20 or 30 years, and I thank you for trying to save the track and entertaining possible groups that will continue horse racing, and anything you can do to keep racing here would be a good thing,'" Hayes said.

Hayes has said he'd like horse racing to be preserved. But the ultimate decision on whom to sell to lies with Churchill.

The company, meanwhile, has said it's aiming to relocate Arlington's racing license elsewhere in Illinois.

"I'm not envisioning that," Hayes said of the prospect of a new Arlington Park somewhere else. "They're so focused on casino gambling. They're putting all their resources and money into an expansion at (Rivers Casino in Des Plaines) and other things."

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