Jim O'Donnell: The Bears at Arlington Park trending tepid as a telling 2022 approaches

  • Horses and jockeys are led to the track on Opening Day in April at Arlington Park.

    Horses and jockeys are led to the track on Opening Day in April at Arlington Park. John Starks | Staff Photographer

 
Updated 12/16/2021 10:24 AM

WITH CHRISTMAS 2021 CLOSING IN, increasingly complex puzzles should be left only to the most beautiful minds at places like MIT.

Unfortunately, that compact list might leave the more baffling and speculative elements of the Chicago Bears, Arlington Park and related matters merely blowin' in the holiday wind.

 

So, separating true, false and gray from The Grand Bears/AP Conundrum as a new year looms.

(Please note: Since multiple sources asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of business matters, all sources are afforded that consideration.):

The pursuit of the purchase agreement between the Bears and Churchill Downs Inc. remains operative -- based upon best available knowledge. 100% true.

And, that best available knowledge will remain 100% true until the shocking day if and when one or both sides releases the sudden statement:

"Due to unanticipated circumstances, the purchase agreement announced in September 2021 for the Chicago Bears to acquire Arlington Park land and facilities from Churchill Downs Inc. is no longer operative."

A credible, well-resourced group remains waiting in the wings to lease the AP plant to restore live racing as soon and as long as possible. 1,000% true.

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The group did not bid on the property. The group's planning is ongoing. As semantically spurious as this may sound, money is of little concern. Passion, challenge and the Gatsby pastimes of rich people are the driving factors.

The group is even willing to conduct live racing at Arlington in front of temporary facilities -- as was done in 1986 and 1987 -- if the main AP grandstand is imploded or dismantled.

Current hurdle: Bears CEO Ted Phillips is not returning phone calls. That factor makes perfect sense since the Bears do not yet own the prime acreage.

Memo to the overburdened Phillips (or George McCaskey): Return the phone calls. The offer on the other end of the line will be intriguing, if not downright dazzling.

Churchill Inc. is allowing the Arlington facility to fall into "rack and ruin." "Rack and ruin" is a construction industry phrase essentially meaning "allowing a property or building to fall into disrepair."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

In terms of the current condition of Arlington Park, that is not an entirely fair nor accurate charge to assign to CDI.

The track is not undergoing full-throttle offseason maintenance because there are no plans to race there next year.

According to appropriately positioned sources, Mayor Tom Hayes and village of Arlington Heights staff are properly monitoring all conditions at AP to prevent devolution into a uniquely problematic wasteland.

The Arlington Park facilities have been the targets of increased vandalism, break-ins and theft since the track's official shutdown Sept. 25. Again, according to authoritatively placed sources, a gross overstatement.

There has been one reported incident of break-in and theft at AP since the live meet ended.

It happened in November when a bumbling rogue carted equipment away from a storage shed located directly east of the Arlington Trackside building near the corner of Euclid and Wilke.

Because of a quickly coordinated nighttime effort between AP security staff and the Arlington Heights Police Department, the alleged thief was caught when a sweep of nearby parking lots and driveways discovered a vehicle licensed to him filled with track booty.

CDI is said to be maintaining 24/7 security on the track grounds.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot is finally, coherently, preparing an ominous counterpunch to the specter of the Bears moving to Arlington Heights. In some extremely high circles of Chicago business and industry, the statement is said to be true.

The essential predicate is that Lightfoot has been advised to find a choice piece of available property, one in the midst of 360 degrees of public transportation and as many prime highways as possible, to offer the Bears at a price ranging from low-cost to no-cost.

She would then go as public as possible with the offer, asking the Bears: Why spend your $2 billion or so on a new stadium in some congealed suburb when you can spend it on a budget-friendly, visitor-alluring site within a city that George "Papa Bear" Halas never wanted to leave?

Lightfoot may need a deep-pocketed civic benefactor or three to push her new vision to realization.

But when you have been a close mate of a family named "Bluhm" for more than three decades -- since your days at the University of Chicago Law School with golden daughter Leslie Bluhm -- does that sound like an impossible dream?

The current Illinois Racing Board is positioned to make itself look like a confederation of heroes or villains Thursday when a final decision on the re-licensing of CDI to continue OTB and advance deposit wagering (ADW) operations in the state will be made. The core statement is true. Which way the board will go remains to be seen.

If civic transparency and personal integrities matter, the board members have no choice -- CDI is gone. And good riddance. The company will still be raking in millions of dollars from its 62% stake in the Des Plaines/Rivers casino.

The Kentucky headhunters unilaterally discontinued live racing operations in the state. Only the most cowardly and audaciously disingenuous reasoning by an IRB majority would allow the burgoo-fueled pillaging to steal away into 2022.

But the board is festooned with many dilettantes and simpletons. They are very likely incapable of generating enough independent thought to do the glaringly right thing.

One senior member of the diminished Illinois thoroughbred racing community thinks the board will come down the middle with a decision that would have taken Solomon off the Biblical marquee:

CDI will be ruled out as an OTB operator but still in with its growing ADW segment.

Finally, for holiday riff-giving, updated chances of the new George S. Halas Stadium at Arlington Park presented by Balalaika Global to be up and running by the summer of 2027? A trendingly tepid 89% (down from 97% Sept. 30).

The first seven months of 2022 will be extraordinarily telling.

As "The Papa Bear" might have said on a bus ride home from Green Bay:

"(Expletive!), (Expletive!), (Expletive!)."

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

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