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Arlington Heights wants to put the squeeze on Churchill in push to sell historic track

Published: May 5, 2021, 02: 05 hrs.

Last updated: May 5, 2021, 02: 05 hrs.

Steve Bittenbender

Even as Churchill Downs Inc. moves forward with its plan to close and sell Arlington International Racecourse, officials in the Chicago suburb are taking steps to possibly save the track or at least tell someone what's going on with the property's nearly 330 acres of prime real estate.

Arlington Park
Aerial view of the Arlington International racetrack. Churchill Downs Inc. is accepting bids on the 326-acre property, which includes the track (lower right corner ), parking lots, and barns and training area above and to the left of the upper parking lot. Officials in Arlington Heights, Illinois, are trying to make sure horse racing at the nearly century-old track is still possible. (Photo: Google Maps)

At Monday's meeting, the Arlington Heights Village Board approved two measures. One was a resolution that states the village will consider zoning changes to the property to restrict certain uses.

The second was an ordinance that prohibits Churchill Downs from imposing use restrictions on the land. This allows a buyer or purchaser of property to continue to allow racing at a location where horses have been galloping since 1927.

Horse racing has lost some of its luster in recent years as several once-famous tracks have closed. However, the village treats the trail as a central part of its identity. The center of the village seal is the letter A in the shape of a horse's head and neck.

Resident Sean Stevens addressed the Board on Monday. He recalled the history of the track, which is located across the street from his home. He understood that Churchill Downs has a say in who buys it. However, he hopes the tradition will continue.

It's something you don't want to just tear down," he said. "It's one of the most beautiful songs literally in the country, known around the world."

He found support from board members, who voted unanimously on both counts.

"I don't want the path to disappear, but it's not up to me," - Village Trustee John Scaletta said. "It depends on who buys the property, but I think it's important to leave the door open so it can remain a trail."

The auction continues for Arlington

In late February, officials from the Louisville gaming company officially announced plans to sell the track. The company has signaled that the 2021 meet will almost certainly be the last. The meet began last week and will run through Sept. 25.

But many in the racing industry were already anticipating a sale. After Illinois racing officials finally convinced state lawmakers to pass an expanded gaming bill that allowed tracks to run casino games, Churchill Downs declined the opportunity to apply for a license.

By then, he had already bought a majority stake in Rivers Casino Des Plaines, the most popular casino in the state. It is located only about 20 minutes from Arlington.

A representative for Churchill Downs did not return a message Tuesday seeking comment.

However, on April 21, the company gave stock analysts an update during its first-quarter earnings call.

Bill, CEO of Churchill Downs Inc. Carstanjen told analysts that the auction process for the 326-acre property is underway. He said the auction will allow the gaming company to "more effectively deploy that locked-up capital" in other projects.

A tentative date for the offer has been set. Although Carstanjen did not disclose it, he said it would happen by the end of June.

"And when those offers come in, in the second quarter we will evaluate them and determine the next steps ," he said. "I think the ultimate conclusion of that process is something that I can't responsibly predict for you because we'll have to see the nature of the offers and whether the property will be split among multiple bidders or if it's a single bidder, and so on. "

Despite blocking Arlington, Carstanjen said Churchill Downs remains the Illinois Race Committee.

Real estate company sees many options for real estate

The company is working with commercial real estate firm CBRE to sell Arlington to potential bidders. )

CBRE extols that the track is located in an exclusive part of the Chicago area. There are nearly 200, 000 households within a seven mile radius of Arlington. The average household income exceeds $ 115, 000, with the average home price above $ 340, 000.

Within five miles of Track, nearly a quarter of households earn more than $ 150, 000.

Among the studies Opportunities that CBRE suggests for the site include a residential community, entertainment venue, corporate campus, sports center or logistics center.

Several board members on Monday said they don't want to see the land turned into a warehouse park for a company like Amazon.

Arlington Heights curious about race Interest

The hope remains that a buyer will want to drop in and purchase a piece from Churchill Downs. That, of course, depends on whether the seller accepts the offer.

It would almost certainly also require the buyer to apply for a gaming license. That way there would be gaming machines on site. That revenue would boost wallets and attract more horses to race in the summer.

That's why Arlington Heights is trying to stop Churchill Downs from imposing covenant restrictions on the track. Such a provision could stop a buyer from ever offering racing or gaming on the site.

We don't know if there will be serious interest from other horse racing buyers, but with such a long history, we want to make sure the village is doing everything it can to preserve the opportunity for horse racing to participate at this site, "said Village Manager Randy Recklaus.

After the meeting, Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes said email that the Board's action gives the community more control, "but not ultimate control" over the fate of the piece.

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