How about baseball at Arlington? Former Kane County Cougars exec pitches it to Bears

A former suburban minor-league baseball executive is making a pitch to bring America's pastime to Arlington Park alongside Chicago Bears football.

Bill Larsen, who helped establish and popularize the Kane County Cougars as general manager in the 1990s, is trying to get a new minor league off the ground, and he envisions a portion of the sprawling racetrack site in Arlington Heights as the place to do it.

Larsen told the Daily Herald Thursday he wants to build a 4,000-seat baseball stadium on approximately 10 to 15 acres of the 326-acre site that's now under contract by the Bears. It would be the home for a new developmental league he's trying to organize for baseball players who go undrafted by big-league teams.

There would be four teams, with room for expansion - all of whom would play at the Arlington Park stadium, making it convenient for Major League scouts to visit one location, Larsen said.

"When I heard about the Arlington Heights location and being from the Chicago area, I said, 'Oh this is perfect. This would make a lot of sense,'" Larsen said. "Only because the Bears are there, there's a lot of property, there's a lot of room, and really the property is sitting there - the Bears are playing X number of games, and I'm looking at the summer season. It's a good complement to what the Bears are trying to do."

But he admits it's just an idea, and he hasn't gotten a response from the Bears. The NFL franchise is in the middle of a due diligence period before a scheduled closing on a $197.2 million purchase agreement with property owner Churchill Downs Inc. in early 2023.

"I have not made any contact with the Bears," he said. "I'm sure that they're more involved with what they're trying to do right now. I'm sure that's their priority. If it goes a little bit further and maybe we make a contact, that could happen too, but I'm not going to count on it."

Larsen said he sent his proposal to Mayor Tom Hayes, who forwarded it to Bears brass at Halas Hall.

Team officials Thursday didn't comment on the prospect of baseball to complement football as part of the Arlington Park redevelopment. But they referred to earlier statements that the due diligence process to evaluate the land as a future possible stadium site is underway.

In March, the team confirmed it had retained an architect and other consultants to help with preliminary plans for the stadium and surrounding mixed-use redevelopment. The roster includes firms with expertise in stadium planning projects, including Manica Architecture, a Kansas City-based designer that is drawing up the initial blueprints; CAA Icon, a Denver-based strategic management consulting firm for sports and entertainment facility owners, operators and professional teams; and Jones Lang LaSalle, a Chicago-based commercial real estate firm.

Hayes said once the village receives at least preliminary plans, an initial public review of them would be scheduled at village hall. That could come as soon as this fall, he said.

Larsen said he plans to send revisions of his baseball concept to Hayes next week.

His is not the first proposal for other sports to complement the Bears at Arlington Park. More than one group has suggested bringing back horse racing to the historic local oval in the short or long term.

Daily Herald sports columnist Jim O'Donnell reported Thursday that a group of regional businessmen is again attempting to solicit senior management at Churchill Downs for a lease to race at the track in 2023.

Bears officials wouldn't comment on that proposal Thursday.

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