As Churchill Downs Inc. proceeds with its plan to sell off the Arlington International Racecourse, Arlington Heights Village has taken a few steps to save the historic horse racing track. Officials from the suburb in Chicago held a meeting earlier this month to establish unity regarding the sale of the track and what they will be able to do once it is sold.
Earlier this month, the Arlington Heights Village board held a meeting where two measures were approved. The first one was the resolution that the residents consider several zoning changes to the piece of prime real estate that would restrict certain uses. The second measure was an ordinance that would prevent Churchill Downs from establishing use restrictions on the property. In this way, anyone who purchases the property could still allow horse racing at the site if they wish to do so. The residents have taken this stance to preserve the history and integrity of the site that has been a venue for horse racing since 1927. While the sports has lost some of its popularity and lustre over the last several years as a result of prominent tracks being closed, the village holds the Arlington International Racecourse in high esteem and considers it to be part of the community’s identity. This can be seen in the village’s seal, which features an image of a horse head and neck integrated into its design.
A resident of the area, Sean Stevens, was heard at the board meeting. Stevens spoke about the history of the track that is currently opposite his home. He shared that while he knows he has no power to dictate who buys the property, his sincere hope is that the tradition will continue. He concluded by stating that the track is one of the most beautiful and renowned horse racing venues in the country and it should not be torn down.
Similar sentiments were echoed by other residents and board members were supportive of this stance. John Scaletta, the Village Trustee, stated that he does not want to see the track torn down but he does not have the power to change any outcomes. At the end of it all, this decision will lie with the new owner of the property but he believes the door to maintaining the tradition should be left open.
In February this year, Churchill Downs formally announced that it would be selling the track. The company used the opportunity to signal that this year’s meet, which started earlier this week and will end in September, will likely be the last to be held at the racetrack. While this announcement might have come as a surprise to residents, industry analysts expected an announcement of this sort much sooner. Many suspected that Churchill Downs inc. had no intention of keeping the property when racing officials in the state persuaded lawmakers to expand gaming to allow for racing tracks to pursue casino-style gambling and Churchill Downs opted not to apply for licensing. By this time, the company had already purchased a large stake in Rivers Casino Des Plaines. The venue is located 20 minutes away from Arlington village and is the most popular casino in the state.
Towards the end of April, the company shared its results for the first quarter and the CEO, Bill Carstanjen, shared the company’s progress on the sale. According to his statement, the auction process for the racetrack is underway. The auction is expected to allow the company to deploy it’s currently locked-up capital in a more effective way. Carstanjen shared that a preliminary date for the auction has already been set. While he did not share specifics, he confirmed that it will be taking place towards the end of next month.
The bids are set to come in during the second quarter where they will each be evaluated. He concluded by stating that the ultimate conclusion of this process cannot be accurately predicted since the nature of the bids will be unknown until they are made. The property could be sold to one bidder or get split up amongst several bidders who will then own a section of the land. Carstanjen and Churchill Downs are still supportive of racing in Illinois despite putting the venue up for sale.
Churchill Downs inc. has enlisted the help of CBRE, a commercial real estate company, to market Arlington International Racecourse to potential bidders. CBRE has created interest by highlighting that the track is situated in an upscale neighbourhood in Chicago. There are currently more than 200,000 households that are seven miles, or less, from the property. The average income of households is around $115,000 and the average price of a home in the area is above $340,000.
CBRE has evaluated the property and listed several development possibilities. These suggestions include an entertainment venue, residential community, sports centre, logistics hub or a corporate campus. Board members from the village have shared that they would be open to every possibility besides the property being turned into a warehouse park.
While development possibilities are varied for the real estate, the village residents remain hopeful that a buyer will be willing to purchase the track from Churchill Downs and allow the traditions to continue. The new buyer is expected to acquire a gaming license since it is now an option. This means that there would be slot machines on site that would attract many people. The revenue from the gaming machines would be vital to the new buyer and would attract more horse owners to the venue during the summer months.
The residents are seeking to prevent Churchill Downs from placing a covenant restriction on the property. This measure would prevent a potential buyer from ever being able to offer gaming or racing at the venue. Randy Recklaus, Village Manager, said that they are unsure whether any buyers who will want to continue horse racing will surface for the property. However, he feels that the community should try all it can to preserve the long history and give future buyers an opportunity to continue hosting horse races.