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updated: 11/25/2019 8:35 AM

What if Arlington Park closes? Village looking at 'worst-case scenarios'

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  • Arlington Heights officials will devise possibilities for redevelopment of the 325-acre Arlington International Racecourse property in case the track closes. An internal village committee is expected to meet over the course of the next year while the track's future remains in limbo.

    Arlington Heights officials will devise possibilities for redevelopment of the 325-acre Arlington International Racecourse property in case the track closes. An internal village committee is expected to meet over the course of the next year while the track's future remains in limbo.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Arlington Heights Village Manager Randy Recklaus

    Arlington Heights Village Manager Randy Recklaus

  • Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes

    Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes

 
 

Arlington Heights officials will set up an internal village committee to devise what-if scenarios should the town's gem and biggest employer, Arlington International Racecourse, eventually close its doors.

That would include options to reuse the facility or redevelop the 325-acre property, where horses have been racing since 1927.

The formation of the staff committee, chaired by Village Manager Randy Recklaus, is a response to uncertainty swirling around the racetrack in recent months after corporate owner Churchill Downs' decision not to pursue long-sought slots and table games -- once seen as a savior for the struggling Illinois horse racing industry. Churchill has committed to live racing at Arlington only through 2021.

"Our hope and goal ... is we want the park to stay open," Recklaus said. "However, given the news, we have to consider other possibilities for the future if it were to close."

"It's our job to look at worst-case scenarios," he added.

The panel is expected to include representatives of multiple village departments, including planning and community development, tasked with coming up with ideas of what could be developed on the expansive racetrack property near Euclid Avenue and Northwest Highway.

Mayor Tom Hayes, who will be following the work of the group, said if the site isn't a racetrack, some type of mixed-use development would put the property to its "highest and best use."

The uses would include anything and everything -- residential, commercial, retail, small offices, dining and entertainment, Hayes said.

The track generates a little more than $1 million annually for village coffers, including sales, admissions and property taxes, and water revenues. Any type of mixed-use redevelopment of the site would likely yield more for the village's bottom line, Hayes said.

But he hopes the village can retain the track for what it provides Arlington Heights as a major Northwest suburban entertainment destination.

"The bigger impact is not financial," Hayes said. "It's more of an indirect benefit from an image standpoint and just from the many ways the racetrack and all its employees contribute to the village of Arlington Heights."

Hayes said the task force's work will be a function of what happens in Springfield and at Churchill Downs' headquarters in Louisville, Kentucky.

The company has said the tax structure within the massive Illinois gambling expansion law would make it hard for the track to gain an acceptable financial return were it to apply for the up to 1,200 slots and table game positions the law allows for. But so far, there's been no movement to change portions of the legislation that Churchill might see as deleterious to Arlington.

Hayes said at a village board meeting earlier this month that village officials' "hands are kind of tied" regarding the track's future, with state lawmakers and Churchill largely controlling the situation.

The village work group is expected to wrap up its initial planning by the end of 2020.