Beginning of the end: Demolition crews arrive at Arlington Park
The storied Arlington Park grandstand still towers above the western edge of Arlington Heights, but work that eventually will lead to its fading into history -- perhaps to be replaced by an even grander sports mecca -- reached the proverbial starting gate Tuesday.
Demolition equipment and crews were stationed outside the shuttered racetrack early in the morning, set to begin the first phase of tearing down the historic venue.
Last week, Arlington Heights officials granted the property's new owners -- the Chicago Bears -- a permit for interior demolition of the six-story grandstand and the adjacent two-story office and jockey building.
An application for a second permit, allowing the full-scale demolition of those buildings, plus the west and east entrances, paddock, concession, main shed, scoreboard and guard house, is awaiting village approval.
Increased truck traffic in the area is possible, and the property will remain monitored by security 24 hours a day, seven days a week, village officials said. Metra commuters will be able to still get to the parking lot and train station from Wilke Road and Commuter Drive.
Trucks will access the site from the old backstretch entrance at Industrial Avenue and Rohlwing Road, the Euclid Avenue gate, or near the closed Trackside off-track betting parlor at Euclid Avenue and Wilke Road.
The demolition is expected to cost the Bears $3.8 million, but it could lead to property tax savings for the team, which closed on its $197.2 million purchase of the old racetrack in February.
Earlier this year, Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi raised the value of the 326-acre property from $33.5 million to $197 million. That would increase the annual property tax bill from $2.8 million to $16.2 million. Among factors the assessor's office cited is that the Bears haven't applied for vacancy status on the site, and that with the grandstand in place, the track has the capacity to be fully functional again.
The Bears are appealing Kaegi's assessment. A hearing on the appeal is scheduled for Friday before the Cook County Board of Review.
In the meantime, Arlington Heights officials say they're waiting for the Bears to submit more detailed plans outlining their vision of a potential $5 billion redevelopment of the Arlington Park site that would be centered around a new, domed stadium for the NFL team.