Bears to blame? Developer cites stadium proposal for delay in Arlington Heights project

Developer Bruce Adreani already was having difficulty obtaining financing for his mixed-use redevelopment plan for the long-vacant Block 425 in downtown Arlington Heights, but this week he added a new wrinkle: the Bears.

Adreani cited the NFL franchise's possible move to Arlington Park — and how that redevelopment could affect the village's downtown — among reasons his Arlington 425 project has been slow to progress since it was first approved by the village board in May 2019.

And despite being grilled by trustees about why his proposed three-building residential and commercial campus doesn't yet have a shovel in the ground, board members reluctantly agreed to his request for a 12-month extension to their zoning approvals.

Besides the Bears' redevelopment of the sprawling 326-acre shuttered racetrack, Arlington 425 would be the largest development in the Northwest suburb in decades.

“We have the uncertainty of the Bears and how it will affect downtown,” Adreani said Monday night, “(and) whether or not we will become the red-haired stepchild to the Bears site and what's going to happen there. Nobody knows what's going to happen there.”

Adreani, of Norwood Builders, and other downtown business owners have raised concerns that the Bears' mixed-use, transit-oriented development proposed on two-thirds of their newly purchased property could detract from the village's quaint downtown of shops and restaurants.

Norwood's revised plans — approved by the board two years ago — call for a 10-story, 234-unit apartment building with streetside retail on Campbell Street; a five-story, 85-unit building of apartments or condominiums along Chestnut Avenue; and a four- or five-story parking garage on Highland Avenue.

The original plans were scaled back in density, number of residential units, amount of commercial space and parking in hopes of jump-starting the project in 2021 — after the developer previously sought and received extensions to his original zoning entitlements.

Adreani on Monday again cited market conditions in his request for a delay — from building material costs and supply chain issues to rising mortgage rates and fears of recession.

This time, trustees pushed back more than they have before. Many said it would be the last time they'll grant extensions to what's formally called the planned unit development and preliminary plat of resubdivision approvals.

Trustee John Scaletta, the most senior trustee, previously shared concerns about the Bears' possible effect on the downtown. But he said Monday, at his final board meeting before retiring from the panel, he didn't think the area “is just going away because the Bears come to town.”

“I do want to find a way that they complement each other,” Scaletta said. “But at the same time, if they build a Bears stadium over there and there's a whole atmosphere over there, I'm still going downtown. I'm going for the atmosphere of charming and quaint and having all these great restaurants.”

Echoing comments of others on the dais, Scaletta urged Adreani to reevaluate his plans and “figure out whether or not you're the guy who wants to redevelop this.”

“We've talked about this, we've reviewed it, and it's taking a tremendous amount of time. And it's your time, too,” Scaletta said. “But we need to get something done or you probably should just move on from this project.”

The most pointed exchange with Adreani came from the other outgoing trustee, Mary Beth Canty, who voted “pass” on the extension approvals — essentially a present vote. She said she might have been more sympathetic to his ask had she not seen construction already taking place elsewhere in the area.

“Perhaps when this project came forward in 2019 it was not yet ready, and perhaps when the extension was requested in 2021 it was not yet ready,” said Canty, who is now the Democratic state representative for the 54th House District. “And so in 2023, to my mind, based on this exchange, it feels like maybe this is where we say officially, if you need to start over, go do that, but you're going to need to go back through the process again.”

Adreani said he hasn't lost his passion for the development and would rethink ways to get it off the ground. That could include discussions with Village Manager Randy Recklaus over the possibility of shared parking spaces for the public in the new garage.

“You don't want me to put up anything that's going to be a loser, either,” Adreani said. “I've got my money at stake, my reputation at stake.”

If Arlington 425 doesn't begin in a year, the developer would have to submit a new application and again appear for hearings before the plan commission and village board.

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