Churchill Downs Closes on Arlington Park Sale, New Chicago Bears Stadium Still Not Guaranteed

Posted on: February 15, 2023, 05:11h. 

Last updated on: February 15, 2023, 05:25h.

Churchill Downs Incorporated (CDI) announced late Wednesday afternoon it has completed the sale of its Arlington Park property to the Chicago Bears.

A rendering of the preliminary master plan the Chicago Bears have developed for the Arlington Park property it bought from Churchill Downs for $197 million. Churchill Downs announced the deal for the 326-acre site formally closed on Wednesday. (Image: Hart Howerton/Chicago Bears)

The closing of the $197.2 million deal comes as expected, more than 500 days after the Louisville-based company announced the NFL franchise was the winning bidder for the 326-acre property in the Windy City’s suburbs.

The Bears acquired the property with an eye toward building a new stadium and mixed-use development in Arlington Heights.

In a statement released after CDI’s announcement, the Bears called the closing “an important next step in our ongoing evaluation” for the former racetrack site.

There is still a tremendous amount of due diligence work to be done to determine if constructing an enclosed state-of-the-art stadium and multi-purpose entertainment district is feasible,” the team said.

If the Bears move forward, the team said it won’t require taxpayer funds to build a stadium. However, team officials said it would need “certainty” regarding property taxes. The team also insists the project would require public funding for infrastructure improvements, such as road work and drainage.

The team and Arlington Heights said they will continue good-faith discussions about the proposed development.

“We have an obligation to ensure that any project proposed will be in the best interests of our residents before any approvals are granted,” the Arlington Heights statement read. “Over the coming months and years, we look forward to working with the CBFC, our residents, and all other stakeholders in an open and transparent manner, while we work to explore the potential opportunities a development could bring to our region. Our goal is to work together to create a new regional destination befitting of the great legacy of the property.”

Chicago Wants Bears to Stay in City

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has previously said the city will work hard to keep the Bears at Soldier Field, the lakefront stadium in the city. The current lease on that site runs through the 2033 season. A clause in that agreement would allow the team to buy out the lease in 2027 for $84 million.

Soldier Field was last renovated more than 20 years ago. That work has been widely panned, as it placed a modern stadium on top of what was a historic landmark.

With a capacity of just 61,500, Soldier Field is the smallest stadium in the NFL.

The Bears have envisioned building an enclosed stadium at Arlington Park, a venue that could lead to it landing major events like the Super Bowl and the Final Four.

If it proceeds with the project, the team said it would serve as one of the largest megaprojects ever in the Midwest. The team said an economic impact study showed construction across the site would create more than 48K jobs and a $9.4 billion boost to the regional economy.

Once completed, the site would create more than 9,750 jobs, the team said in its Wednesday statement. Those jobs would generate more than $600 million in worker income, meaning the jobs would have an average salary in excess of $61K.

“The project would offer considerable commercial and residential real estate opportunities year-round, and serve as a regional hub for entertainment, shopping, and community events that complement the established businesses and thriving community already in place,” the team said.

Arlington Money to Help Finance P2E Purchase

CDI said in its statement that it intends to use the proceeds from the Arlington Park sale toward the purchase of gaming and racing properties it acquired last year from Peninsula Pacific Gaming.

Churchill purchased the Del Lago Resort in Waterloo, NY, the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Sioux City, Iowa, Colonial Downs in New Kent, Va., and six historical horse racing (HHR) properties in Virginia. The $2.75 billion deal also includes rights to build additional HHR parlors in Virginia and the rights to build a casino in Richmond, Va.

Arlington’s future as the Bears stadium isn’t the only uncertainty related to the deal.

Arlington Park was one of three thoroughbred racetracks in Illinois, with races taking place there during the spring and summer. When CDI shuttered the historic venue, company officials said they were interested in opening another facility in the state.

However, Bob Denneen, projects manager for the Illinois Racing Board, told Wednesday that Churchill no longer has a racing license in the state, and if it were to propose a new track, the company would have to apply for a new license.

A message to a Churchill Downs spokesperson was not immediately returned Wednesday evening.

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