'Bears cannot develop this property without village approval': Arlington Heights to vote on process

Arlington Heights' village board next month could vote on a so-called development road map laying out the village review process for the Chicago Bears' Arlington Park plans.

"I will assure everyone that the Bears cannot develop this property without village approval," Village Manager Randy Recklaus told trustees Monday night. "Therefore the Bears have indicated that gaining an early understanding of the village's processes, values and goals for the site is a necessary step for them that must be taken prior to making any purchasing decision."

The board is also set to consider a proposed amendment to the overlay zoning district the elected panel created more than a year ago that would list a sportsbook as a possible use on the sprawling development site.

While a stadium or sports venue are expressly listed as contemplated uses under the village zoning designation, a sportsbook - which the Bears have proposed - isn't yet. The Bears would still have to go through the village's special use permit process for formal approval of the wagering facility.

Recklaus and the village staff Monday night laid out the forthcoming timeline and introduced the proposed zoning changes during the board's first public discussion of the Bears' ambitious $5 billion redevelopment proposal at the shuttered racetrack.

The committee of the whole meeting was held at Northwest Suburban High School District 214's Forest View Educational Center theater on Goebbert Road instead of village hall because of a large expected turnout. But only about 30 people were in the audience.

Attendees included Rolling Meadows City Manager Rob Sabo and Alderman Kevin O'Brien, whose town borders the racetrack, and Arlington Heights Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jon Ridler.

The nearly two-hour public meeting was separate from the Bears' own meeting last Thursday in the John Hersey High School gymnasium, where Chairman George McCaskey, President/CEO Ted Phillips and their team of consultants detailed preliminary plans for the proposed 326-acre redevelopment. No Bears representatives were at the village meeting Monday night.

The Bears' plans call for a domed stadium and parking lots on a 120-acre northwest portion of the site near Route 53 and Northwest Highway, and an adjoining transit-oriented, mixed-use district on the 206 acres to the south and east, near Euclid and Wilke roads and up to the existing Arlington Park Metra station. It could include restaurants, stores, offices, a hotel, a performance venue, a fitness center, townhouses and multifamily housing, parks and open spaces.

Recklaus also revealed Monday that village officials have been talking to their counterparts in Inglewood, California; Foxborough, Massachusetts; and Las Vegas, where NFL stadiums and entertainment districts have been developed.

"There are certainly examples of stadium projects that have fared badly for host communities," Recklaus said. "However, there are others that have been great successes for host communities, and we obviously want to do all we can to be in that later camp."

Mayor Tom Hayes likened the Bears' progress with development plans to the team's season-opening win on Sunday. "Just like we know that there's a long way to go in the NFL season, there is a long way to go" on the Arlington Park redevelopment project, he said.

"This is a complex project. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity - something none of us have been involved in before. We want to make sure we do it right, that we don't screw it up."

The team's pending $197.2 million purchase of the racetrack from Churchill Downs Inc. is scheduled to close later this year or early next, though Bears officials have said there's a number caveats as to whether they will seal the deal and complete the redevelopment as envisioned.

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  About 30 citizens showed up to the Arlington Heights village board meeting Monday night at the Forest View Educational Center theater to hear about the Chicago Bears' proposed redevelopment of Arlington Park. John Starks/
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