Arlington Park demolition starts, but Bears may not go there

Arlington Park demolition starts, but Bears may not go there
Photo: Ron Flatter

Two days after the demolition of Arlington Park Racecourse began, the National Football League’s Chicago Bears were reported to be in talks to consider a different suburban site for a stadium to replace Soldier Field, a newspaper reported Friday.

According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Bears executives met Friday with mayor Scott Wehrli of Naperville, Ill., about 30 miles south of Arlington Heights and roughly the same distance west of the team’s current lakefront home within the Chicago city limits.

“We will continue our ongoing demolition activity and work toward a path forward in Arlington Heights, but it is no longer our singular focus,” a Bears spokesperson told the Sun-Times on Friday.

The spokesperson also said the idea of a stadium on the old Arlington Park property might fall apart, because the Bears felt the property-tax rate being levied by Arlington Heights village leaders was too high. The team believed it “fails to reflect the property is not operational and not commercially viable in its current state.”

Churchill Downs Inc., which owned the 326-acre site of Arlington Park, sold the property to the Bears for $197.2 million in a deal that closed in February. CDI, however, still was on the hook for a tax bill, and it wanted the property valued at $37 million. Local school districts wanting their fair share called for a $150 million valuation. The two sides arrived at a $95 million compromise last month.

The problem now is that it was a one-year agreement, and after new assessments in the coming months, the whole issue will be revisited next spring. That is when the Bears would have to foot the tax bill.

The Bears also asked the Illinois state Legislature for a tax break to go along with a new stadium, but reports last month said the prospects of getting one before the current session ends late this month were uncertain.

Any last-ditch hopes that the racetrack could be salvaged truly may have been dashed Wednesday, when the Bears began interior demolition of the once-pristine grandstand building that was opened in 1989, four years after a fire brought down the old one. The Bears have asked for a permit to level the exterior of the building, but Arlington Heights has not granted it yet.

Arlington Park’s last race was run in September 2021, 94 years after the track opened in an area that had yet to see the suburban development that would surround it decades later.

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