Crains - The owner of Arlington Park said today that he expects the Chicago Bears will redevelop the northwest suburban racetrack with a "world-class stadium," the first time a company official has commented publicly on the team's highly anticipated plans for the site.
Speaking to analysts during the company's third-quarter earnings call, Churchill Downs CEO Bill Carstanjen said the company is "sad" to be closing Arlington Park and "would have loved to continue to (have) racing" there, but said the Bears "will ultimately develop this prime real estate into a world-class stadium and development with numerous amenities for fans and residents to enjoy over the coming decades."
Carstanjen reiterated that the company expects the sale of the property to close in late 2022 or early 2023, "subject to completion of due diligence and other customary closing conditions."
The team, which declined to comment today, has been guarded when it comes to discussing the scope of its plans for the 326-acre property. The sprawling site could accommodate a mixed-use campus anchored by a new stadium, in line with the entertainment options built around other major pro sports stadiums constructed in recent years.
The Bears have lined up the $197 million purchase of the Arlington Park property, while Mayor Lori Lightfoot says she is trying to engage the team in discussions about what could be done to improve their experience at Soldier Field and keep the team there past its 2033 lease expiration.
When you're a Bears fan you gotta take your wins where you can.
And this news is a big-time win.
Not just because the big swinging dicks at Churchill Downs (whose stock has been on a fucking tear lately)
are planning to spare no expense out in Arlington Heights on the new stadium, but more so for what this means when reading between the lines.
There is no innuendo, or talk about "ifs" and "whens" this happens.
According to everybody that was on this earnings call, this baby is all systems fucking go.
This stadium, and the Bears move, is a reality now to everybody not named Lori Lightfoot.
A Lightfoot spokeswoman couldn't be reached. But the mayor has said in recent weeks that she is assembling a group of people that will look at ways to improve the area around the lakefront stadium. She has also publicly pressed the team to be more "forthcoming" with what it wants out of the venue.
"This whole conversation around Soldier Field has really led me, for months now, to think about how is it not only that we maximize the fan experience at Soldier Field, but thinking about that campus from Shedd (Aquarium) down to McCormick Place, making sure that we are taking advantage of every opportunity there," Lightfoot said during an unrelated news conference on Oct. 18. "I think there's lots of opportunities for us."
The word delusional, amongst dozens of others, when considering Lori Lightfoot's disposition. Especially here. The first two years of her mayoral term haven't been easy. And the next two won't get any better. Especially if she's left holding the bag by the McCaskey's as the perfect fall girl for this whole thing. (A theory I considered in this blog)
Lightfoot's legacy will be a lot of things. But if she goes down as the mayor that let the Bears leave Chicago, one of the oldest American franchises of all time, that will really be something.
And it seems like she's playing chicken with a mac truck thinking they're gonna flinch because… Soldier Field has too much tradition?
Everybody seems unsure why exactly. It's a real head-scratcher like everything she seems to do.
This really has been the perfect storm, or long con, played out by the McCaskey's.
Churchill Downs wants the ability to have table games at their casino. They say they can't compete with other gambling entities without them. Their sport is dying and revenues are plummeting. The state of Illinois refuses. Shocker.
So instead of investing in the 93-year-old track, the Lousiville-based corporation is opting to sell it to the Bears, who outbid a group led by former Arlington International Racecourse president Roy Arnold that wanted to keep the ponies running.
Despite a Daily Herald report that another racing-minded group was courting the Bears about resuming racing, the team is “not pursuing any horse racing opportunities on the site,” Bears spokesman Scott Hagel said in an email.
The Bears want the ability to generate revenue outside of 8 weeks per year, in an old, confined space. They want to be able to build an entertainment complex in and around their stadium, sell alcohol, offer betting, and do other 21st century things. AKA run a business.
The city of Chicago, one of the most anti-business run places in the world, is of course opposed to all the above.
You need a permit, to get a permit, to get a license, to get a permit, to get a license here. More red tape then a department store during the holidays. So the fact Lori is sitting here saying "we will explore all options" giving off the air of confidence her team will get this done and work out a compromise, while the real people who actually get shit done in corporate American are full speed ahead is high comedy.
The other great part of this will be seeing one of the most antiquated operation in sports go from the farmhouse to the penthouse. Real quick.
I personally like Soldier Field. But I only go to 2-3 games per year, if that. Would I enjoy forking over 1200-2500 a year to George and Ginny to sit in -20 degree temps, walk two miles to and from a tailgate lot, all to watch a perpetually shitty product on the field? No. I would not. So I feel for true Bears fans. But Churchill Downs doesn't fuck around, and they're not going to drop the ball on this.
I drove by the new Raiders stadium in Vegas a couple weeks ago when I was out there and my jaw hit the floor.
I've seen some cool shit before but this was unlike any place I've ever seen.
They joke that it looks like a spaceship because it does. It doesn't look like it's from this planet. But not in an ugly way. The black material covering the exterior looks like some material you've never seen before. The combination of it and the ridiculous amount of smoked glass gives it such an ominous and intimidating look. It's so badass. And we've all seen the inside of it by now.
Full nightclub, high-end restaurants, VIP areas off the charts everywhere you look. Movie theatre seats. If this is what you get for your dollar in 2021, imagine what the new Bears digs will look like in a few years.
And NOBODY deserves an upgrade to the finer things club than die-hard Bears fans. Nobody.
p.s.- my lasting memory of Arlington Park will always be a nightmare. I probably went to the place 15-20 times throughout my time here in Chicago. When I say it was one of the nicest, prettiest, cleanest horse racing facilities in the country, that's being totally objective. When you factor in that I grew up being dragged to absolute dumps like Suffolk Downs and Plainridge Park all the more so. A couple of years back my fiancee was invited to be guest of honor for the Arlington Million and "host" the Million Dollar Race. The two of us, my sister and brother-in-law went. My sister is a horse fanatic. Grew up working in stables in rural Massachusetts (Grafton and Sherborne), taking care of them for uber-rich blue bloods, and riding English Style herself. She was NOT a fan of horse racing as she believed it was animal abuse. However, we convinced her to come because of the occasion. We were having the best day. Weather could not have been more perfect, my brother-in-law hit a few boxes in the earlier races and Arlington Park rolled out the carpet for us with the VIP treatment. We were up in the suites with all the big shots meeting tons of power players from Illinois government (puke) and the racing industry as well as regular old bajillionaires who just loved the sport. We were severely out of place but made to feel at home and didn't give a fuck anyway.
About a half-hour before the Million they took us down to the main level and out to the stables. They introduced us to a bunch of the trainers and jockeys and we got to see the horses. My sister was hitting it off with everybody. Especially this older lady and her husband who owned one of the horses in the big race. It actually felt like we swung her on the whole animal abuse thing and that she was becoming a fan. They escorted us over to the winner's circle before the race went off where my fiancee needed to be to pose for pics and shake hands. We watched the race from the railing. It was incredible. Being on the ground level when the pack goes by is such a surreal feeling, sound, and sight. It's also a whole different perspective of speed seeing it from eye level rather than from an angle up above. Long story short the race concludes (we didn't win a single bet) and we're standing around while Cheryl is doing her thing when my sister notices a truck driving out a little past the finish line to our right. They hop out of the back and unfold a giant blue tent like and drape it over a horse who is laying on the ground. "Oh-no". She immediately starts questioning to her husband and then me, "what are they doing," and neither of us can actually believe we're seeing, what we've always heard rumors of. They put the poor horse down right there on the track. She's hysterical, he's trying to console her, and Cheryl comes back over to us wondering wtf just happened. Then I tell her and she feels awful and what was shaping up to be an awesome day turned to shit real quick. The drive back to Chicago was not pleasant. Despite that instance, thanks for the memories Arlington Park. You did a hell of a job and deserved a better end.