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Arlington Heights mayor: First review of Bears’ Arlington plans right now scheduled for this fall

Preliminary plans for the redevelopment of the 326-acre Arlington Park property are set to be presented by the Chicago Bears in the fall, Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes said Thursday. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer, 2021

An initial public review of the Chicago Bears’ preliminary redevelopment plans for Arlington Park is tentatively scheduled for this fall, Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes said Thursday.

Hayes said the meeting with the village board would take place before the NFL franchise’s scheduled closing on its $197.2 million purchase agreement with property owner Churchill Downs Inc. in early 2023.

“We want this to be a win-win not just for the Bears, but for the village of Arlington Heights. We are working together very carefully with them to make sure that all the I’s are dotted and T’s are crossed before they sign their final agreement,” Hayes said during his annual State of the Village address Thursday afternoon during a Rotary Club luncheon.

“We’re very, very excited,” he said. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for not just the village of Arlington Heights but for the Chicago Bears and this region to develop 326 acres of prime real estate. Opportunities like this don’t come along very often.”

In an interview after the speech, Hayes said village officials are awaiting detailed submissions from the Bears to review ahead of that meeting, which would include the nine-member elected panel, team representatives and the public.

“We don’t expect that it’ll be anything really detailed,” Hayes said of the initial blueprints submitted to village hall. “They’re not going to have a final plan for all 326 acres and say, ‘Approve it yes or no.’ That’s not going to happen. It’ll be some kind of preliminary approval that will give them enough of a comfort level where they can sign the final agreement.”

The mayor anticipates some type of agreement between the team and the village, providing some assurances of approval, before the team closes on the deal with Churchill Downs.

Hayes said village departments — chief among them planning and community development — have done at least preliminary work on the Bears-Arlington Park redevelopment project. But most of the behind-the-scenes preparations are being done on the Bears’ end, he said.

“We don’t have plans that we’re reviewing. We’re not doing that,” Hayes said. “But we have met with the Bears, certainly, and we’ve been working together with them.”

Team officials confirmed in March that they have retained an architect and other consultants to help with preliminary plans for their new stadium and surrounding redevelopment at the sprawling former racetrack site. The roster includes firms with expertise in stadium planning projects, including Manica Architecture, a Kansas City-based designer that is drawing up the initial blueprints; CAA Icon, a Denver-based strategic management consulting firm for sports and entertainment facility owners, operators and professional teams; and Jones Lang LaSalle, a Chicago-based commercial real estate firm.

The proposed redevelopment of Arlington Park was also a topic a day earlier at Rolling Meadows Mayor Joe Gallo’s State of the City address. Gallo said he and the city’s staff are conducting an internal review of the city’s comprehensive plan to make sure it’s still relevant near the border with the racetrack property.

“If we find that there are adjustments that we need to make with our current zoning during this exercise, we’ll make those changes so our real estate and economy in the region can play complementary roles to that rising development at Arlington Park, while providing regional and local benefit for all who visit,” Gallo said Wednesday.

Back in Arlington Heights Thursday, Hayes noted one of the village board’s top priorities for the next two years is to ensure the Arlington Park property is redeveloped in a manner that’s befitting of the legacy of the racecourse and community.

He said the Bears have spent a half-century each at Soldier Field and Wrigley Field — a history he hopes the NFL’s charter franchise will continue in the suburbs.

“We’re hoping they’re going to be at least 50 years in Arlington Heights,” he said.