MIGHT BEARS PLAY AND HORSES RUN AT ARLINGTON INTERNATIONAL RACECOURSE?

When Churchill Downs, Inc. announced that it would sell Arlington International Racecourse near Chicago, the property immediately became of interest to developers and others.  According to Churchill Downs, “strong proposals from numerous parties” were submitted before the bidding deadline on June 15, 2021. 

One of the known bidding groups is led by the onetime Arlington International president Roy Arnold, who wants to keep horse racing going after September 25, 2021, when racing is scheduled to end for good.  This purportedly “high-net-worth” group proposes also to build an arena for a minor league hockey team, a 300-unit housing development, an entertainment district, and allocate 60 acres to industrial development.  In May, the Arlington Village board instituted an ordinance that prohibits certain uses for the property, such as warehouses and gas stations.

One of the confirmed bidders is the Chicago Bears of the National Football League.  The Bears have  played at Soldiers Field in Chicago since 1972.  The stadium was built in 1924 and is in need of extensive renovations.  It also has a seating capacity that evidently cannot be expanded.  Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot responded to the Bears’ announcement with her own statement: “The Bears are locked into a lease at Soldier Field until 2033.  In addition, the announcement from the Bears comes in the midst of negotiations for improvements at Soldiers Field.  This is clearly a negotiating tactic that the Bears have used before.”

The Mayor may be mistaken that the Bears announcement is just “noise,” in her words.  Other NFL teams have broken long-term leases to relocate and, moreover, the Bears’ bid might be accepted by Churchill Downs, reflecting that the Bears are not just posturing for a better deal from Chicago to renovate aging Soldiers Field.

From the standpoint of those wanting for racing to continue at Arlington International, the best outcome ostensibly would be for the Arnold group to win the bidding.  However, an idea has been floated to have both a new Bears stadium on the site and keep the racetrack as well.  Reportedly, the Arlington International property is large enough to accommodate a stadium and a racetrack. The Bears might agree to such a sharing arrangement if it reaped sufficient benefits.

(For example, the Bears just signed the team’s first sports-betting partnership with BetRivers.com and its first casino partnership with Rivers Casino.)

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