Jim O'Donnell: Another twist: New Arlington bidder has history with Churchill partner Neil Bluhm

  • Neil Bluhm

    Neil Bluhm

 
Updated 7/7/2021 11:09 PM

THE PLOT SURROUNDING the sale of the 326 acres still doing business as Arlington Park continues to thicken.

And one of the newest thickeners could help settle an old grudge and keep the McCaskey family and its Chicago Bears out of the prime northwest suburban site.

 

The Daily Herald has learned that Glenstar Properties -- one of the two newest bidders on the track confirmed last Friday -- has a business relationship with Neil Bluhm dating back to 2005.

Bluhm is the 83-year-old Chicago billionaire who helped Churchill Downs Inc. maneuver its way on to the Illinois casino landscape through CDI's purchase of majority interest in the Des Plaines / Rivers operation in November 2018.

CDI now owns 61 percent of the O'Hare-area temple of chance. The other 39 percent is controlled by Bluhm and associates.

BLUHM IS ALSO the precision-driven magnate who was shut out of purchasing 19.7 percent of the Bears in partnership with longtime chum Judd Malkin in the winter of 1987-88.

The two had an agreement in place to buy the block of stock for approximately $17M from the estate of the late George "Mugs" Halas Jr., the son of the fabled "Papa Bear."

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Instead, the cash-strapped McCaskey family -- notably father Ed and son / CEO Michael -- scurried to find quick capital to maintain "family control" of the franchise.

With insurance wizard Pat Ryan putting up almost all of the money, the McCaskeys exercised a right-of-first-refusal and sent Bluhm and Malkin hiking.

Ryan now owns an estimated 17.7 percent of the team while junior associate Andy McKenna -- age 93 -- holds the other 2 percent.

(That initial $17M is now worth close to $690M, according to credible NFL business reports.)

GLENSTAR ENTERED THE PASSION PLAY on Friday when corporation principal Michael Klein confirmed that his firm wanted to "partner" with Churchill in the sale and redevelopment of the Arlington land.

Klein told Daily Herald reporter Eric Peterson that rather than buy the land outright, the Glenstar plan was to sell off parcels and maintain "an 80-to-100 acre open recreational space as a major component" of the choice acreage.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

No commitment to a new Bears stadium on that "open recreational space" was indicated by Klein.

Instead, he said, "We would act as (CDI's) feed developer. It would give them maximum value."

LEFT UNSAID WAS that in late 2005, Bluhm's Walton Street Capital put up close to $400M to enable the fledgling Glenstar -- incorporated by Klein and partners in 2004 -- to buy the 55 East Monroe office landmark in the Chicago Loop and convert it into a dramatically updated combination condo / business building.

The property sold for a reported $229M. The remainder of Bluhm's investment went into renovations.

The conversion proved to be a success and greatly accelerated Glenstar's position as a significant player on the regional commercial real estate map.

Klein did not return requests from the Daily Herald seeking further clarification of the Glenstar plan for the Arlington land and its history of business dealings with Bluhm.

And a central question to be answered is: Has your firm already been designated as the winner in "The Bye-Buy Arlington Derby?"

BESIDES GLENSTAR, THE OTHER new AP bidder revealed on Friday was the Schaumburg-based UrbanStreet Group.

That company is currently overseeing the mixed-use Veridian Development on the 225 acres that once served as home to the sprawling Motorola campus in Schaumburg.

While Glenstar's Klein was initially chatty with multiple media outlets, UrbanStreet's managing partner Bob Burk could not be reached for comment.

THERE ARE NOW four confirmed bidders for the Arlington property: the Bears, Glenstar, UrbanStreet and Endeavor Properties, a group headed by former AP president Roy Arnold.

Arnold's association is the only one of the four that has confirmed that it wants to continue horse racing at the legacied 94-year-old racetrack.

The Bears are the only one positioned to bring an existing NFL team and a spectacular new stadium / performance venue to the site -- with more than 200 acres left over.

But Churchill Downs Inc. and CEO Bill Carstanjen remain in the "god seat" during the bidding process, positioned to reconsider or change any guidelines or deadlines in furtherance of "maximizing shareholder value."

And if the shrewd Neil Bluhm has an ax to grind with the McCaskey family, he quite possibly could suddenly have a very live horse in "The Bye-Buy Arlington Derby."

Jim O'Donnell's Sports and Media column appears Thursday and Sunday. Reach him at jimodonnelldh@yahoo.com.

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