The big news of the week is the Bears formally signing a purchasing agreement with Churchill Downs for the Arlington Park race track. I think everyone except for the Mayor and teenage meatballs from the suburbs recognize that Soldier Field puts the Bears at a competitive disadvantage and is one of the worst fan experiences imaginable from amenities, seats available, transportation, and traffic. The Bears getting a new stadium is good. What is the biggest downside to this new proposed stadium is that it means the end of Horse Racing in Illinois. Hawthorne ain't Arlington. Arlington is an experience. It's an absolutely gorgeous track and losing it would be a tragedy.
Here is something that I haven't heard people say in mainstream media though...why does the Bears new stadium mean that the track has to die. The Bears agreed to pay nearly $200M for the entire property which is 324 acres. Now, if you're like me you have a very difficult time conceptualizing what 324 acres looks like and how many acres you need to build a state of the art football stadium. The Raiders moved into the sparkling new Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas last year
This beautiful, sprawling, state-of-the-art NFL stadium sits on a total of 62 acres. SIXTY-TWO! The Bears could build a stadium the size of Jerry's World, a hotel, added parking, a fucking extra highway ramp, a shopping mall, a casino, a top golf, and still have room left over for the racetrack and stables. I spoke with Chris Block this afternoon who has run a racing/training/breeding operation at Arlington Park for decades. He said that the racetrack could survive with 125-150 acres. Let's just say that we give the track and their horses 150 for this experiment. We also allot 62 acres for the stadium footprint equivalent to what the Raiders just built. That leaves another 112 acres available for all the extra shit the Bears might want to include from hotels, shopping, bars, or whatever else they need to generate revenue for those 8-10 home games per year.
And that is the other factor here...it is truly 8-10 dates per year that the Bears will be using Arlington. That's it. It'd be their land. Wouldn't they want to create an entertainment asset that can generate revenue all throughout the spring and summer? If the Bears or other operators want to open a bar/restaurant on the property wouldn't they want the foot traffic that'd come through Arlington Race Track all summer long? The parking, the concessions, and the slot machines when they inevitably apply for the gaming license that Churchill Downs refused to apply for because they're in bed with Rivers Casino and Neil Bluhm.
Keeping Arlington Racetrack alive provides all of that revenue and would make the Bears money all year long. Not to mention the economic impact from a jobs perspective. All the people involved with the horse racing industry would lose their jobs immediately. That is anywhere from 10-25k jobs. Not to mention the impact on farmers who rely on the revenue from horse feed they grow that gets sent to Arlington. I'd also imagine that while the city of Arlington will get tremendous revenue from having the Bears relocate, there's still tax revenue to be had from operating the race track on the grounds from May-September. Arlington would become the sportsman's dream. A true destination event.
Everyone always talks about giving the Bears new stadium a retractable roof so Chicago can land a Super Bowl or Final Four. Well keep the track in place and you can add the Breeders Cup to the list. Arlington hasn't hosted a Breeders Cup since 2002. Can you imagine a weekend where Arlington hosts a Breeders Cup on Friday and Saturday and then a Bears home game on Sunday? That would be a high roller sportsman's dream.
It seems like the powers that be in this state are hard to fight against, but we need to form a coalition of horsemen, farmers, Arlington Heights officials (who still need to approve the terms of the sale and project with the Bears), and the Bears themselves to keep the race track right where it is because that is where it should be. Illinois has a great tradition of horse racing and it shouldn't die because Neil Bluhm doesn't want ANY competition for Rivers Casino and Churchill Downs doesn't actually give a fuck about their sport besides the one event that they host in May. Get me Ted Phillips, the Mayor of Arlington, JB Pritzker, and the horsemen of Arlington on the phone and let's a make deal that is good for everyone and not just for one casino.