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updated: 2/27/2021 4:44 PM

Even with a stadium, Arlington Park redevelopment likely to include other uses

‘Mixed use’ is all the buzz, so stores, homes, dining could come, too

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  • One built-in advantage to Arlington International Racecourse's location is its own Metra station, experts say, along with proximity to major roads and expressways.

    One built-in advantage to Arlington International Racecourse's location is its own Metra station, experts say, along with proximity to major roads and expressways.
    Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer, 2020

  • What is to become of the sprawling 326-acre site that includes Arlington International Racecourse? Planners say whatever is redeveloped there, it's sure to include a mix of different uses, which could range from commercial to residential.

    What is to become of the sprawling 326-acre site that includes Arlington International Racecourse? Planners say whatever is redeveloped there, it's sure to include a mix of different uses, which could range from commercial to residential.
    Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer, 2012

  • Now that Arlington International Racecourse owner Churchill Downs Inc. has put the track up for sale, ideas of how the sprawling Arlington Heights property could be redeveloped abound. Some have suggested Arlington could host a new Chicago Bears stadium or Ravinia-style concert venue.

    Now that Arlington International Racecourse owner Churchill Downs Inc. has put the track up for sale, ideas of how the sprawling Arlington Heights property could be redeveloped abound. Some have suggested Arlington could host a new Chicago Bears stadium or Ravinia-style concert venue.
    Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer, 2017

  • Horses have raced at Arlington Park since 1927, but this year is expected to be the last now that owner Churchill Downs Inc. has put the property on the market.

    Horses have raced at Arlington Park since 1927, but this year is expected to be the last now that owner Churchill Downs Inc. has put the property on the market.
    Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer, 2020

 
 

Once in a generation.

That's how a marketing brochure describes the redevelopment opportunity that exists on a sprawling 326-acre site that has hosted horse racing for nearly a century in Arlington Heights.

And while horse players, railbirds and other longtime fans of the sport of kings might hope for a savior to purchase and keep the Arlington Heights oval in operation, the steady decline of the industry in recent years makes such a possibility unlikely.

Instead, the Arlington International Racecourse property is being eyed for a whole host of potential uses, from a mixed-use project with stores, restaurants and homes, to a corporate campus, office complex or logistics hub, according to the brochure published by Chicago real estate firm CBRE, which last week began formally marketing the property on behalf of owner Churchill Downs Inc.

A sports center or entertainment venue are also among the possible listed uses in the 13-page document -- which has some observers thinking big.

The new home of the Chicago Bears? A Ravinia-style concert venue?

Those were among the suggestions of sports radio talkers, columnists, bloggers, social media denizens and even Arlington Heights village board candidates after Churchill confirmed last Tuesday that it's putting the property on the market.

Even if a professional sports stadium or large-scale entertainment venue is built at Arlington, it likely would be part of the mix of a broader redevelopment that includes a variety of uses, according to planning and development experts.

"'Mixed-use development' has kind of been a buzz word for a while," said Joshua Drucker, an associate professor of urban planning and policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago. "You'll pretty likely find a developer putting in some housing, some businesses, some recreation venue all together because is it a big site and you can have a lot of options for how to design it that way."

Some are drawing parallels between what the Arlington property could become and what's already under development at a Los Angeles-area site that long hosted another famous racetrack, Hollywood Park.

The opening last September of the nearly $6 billion SoFi Stadium, home to the NFL's Los Angeles Rams and Chargers, is the marquee piece of a massive entertainment, cultural and recreational campus that will include high-end shopping and dining, offices, a hotel and apartments.

The sheer size of the Arlington site has some comparing it to other large-scale properties that became available in the suburbs in recent years, such as the former Glenview Naval Air Station that was developed into The Glen, a town center with shopping, dining, apartments, offices and a movie theater.

Closer by, redevelopment continues at the 225-acre Veridian Development, on the former Motorola Solutions campus in Schaumburg. So far, it includes the Topgolf entertainment venue and a 260-unit apartment building. Still to come are a 12-acre urban-style park and 260 row houses, among other plans.

Indeed, "mixed use" is how the Arlington Park site is designated on Arlington Heights' comprehensive plan.

Village officials have been preparing for the eventuality of the track's closure since at least late 2019, when they formed an internal committee to develop options to reuse or redevelop the property near Euclid Avenue and Wilke Road.

Now that the site is officially being marketed, staff members of the village's planning and community development department say they plan to meet soon with CBRE and Churchill about ideas they'd like to see in a potential redevelopment. They're also expected to discuss details of what's expected to be a lengthy municipal review and approval process.

Any real estate deal between Churchill and an investor would be contingent on getting those necessary government approvals.

Charles Witherington-Perkins, the department's longtime director, said it's too early to know exactly what could become of the racetrack site. He, like Mayor Tom Hayes, said village officials are open to various mixed uses that could include retail, commercial, offices, residential and entertainment.

Should the Arlington Park property remain a regional entertainment draw, Perkins added that it's possible some elements of the existing racetrack could be preserved, such as the grandstand.

"The site will not redevelop overnight," Perkins said. "It will take a substantial amount of time to master-plan the site correctly and work with ownership, developers, the community and other stakeholders."

"It's going to be a large undertaking and there's many steps in the process. This is kind of at the beginning," he said.

Jonathan Burch, principal planner at the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, noted the racetrack property's assets -- including its location near Northwest Highway, Route 53 and a Metra station -- make it a rare redevelopment opportunity.

While both Burch and UIC's Drucker emphasized the importance of a regional planning approach to Arlington Park's future, what happens within Arlington Heights' borders ultimately will be up to the suburb's elected officials.

"How does Arlington Heights want to grow? What does it mean to grow in Arlington Heights?" Burch said. "Being able to answer that question clearly is an important part of planning."