Chicago Bears get OK to begin teardowns inside Arlington racetrack structures in preparation for stadium

The Chicago Bears took another step toward a stadium at the Arlington International Racecourse site when the village of Arlington Heights on Friday issued a permit for interior demolition of the grandstand, office and jockey building at the racetrack.

Arlington Heights spokesperson Avis Meade confirmed that the village had approved plans for the first phase of demolition at the racetrack, marking another move toward a $5 billion NFL stadium and accompanying mixed-use residential, commercial and entertainment district the team has proposed to build on the 326-acre racetrack.

“Increased truck traffic due to the interior demolition is possible in the area and the property will continue to be monitored by security 24 hours a day, 7 days a week,” Meade wrote in an email to Pioneer Press.

A Bears representative confirmed the team had been permitted to begin work and said they expected to start the process Tuesday. The team will not use explosives or implosion to execute the job, they said.

Meade said the village and Cook County would review and approve applications for demolition of the exterior buildings on the site. Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes said earlier this month that the village had fielded a number of questions and comments from residents about the team’s request to do demolition work. He said the Village Board did not have the authority to approve or deny the team’s request.

The Arlington Heights Building and Life Safety Department also received a second application for demolition of the structure itself. All told, the team expects the wrecking work to cost about $3.8 million, their applications show.

This permit issued Friday covers the interior demolition of the grandstand, two-story office and jockey building at Arlington Park. The village has published a traffic plan for removing debris on its website.

The team’s application for interior demolition estimates that the cost of the work is about $1.48 million.

A summary of the project obtained in a Freedom of Information request states that the team will gut the inside of the buildings and “cut and cap” utilities such as water, electric and gas.

Work to demolish the grandstand, west entrance, jockey building, paddock, office, east entrance, concession stand, main shed, scoreboard and guard house is set to cost about $2.34 million, according to paperwork the club submitted to the village.

The Bears will use a St.-Charles based contractor, Alpine Demolition Services, according to application materials.

The Bears first applied to begin demolition work the day after Crain’s Chicago Business reported that Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi had raised the value of the property to about $197 million.

The land sale officially closed in February 2023, more than a year after the team agreed to purchase it from former owner and operator Churchill Downs, Inc.

The team is currently fighting a wide-ranging property tax battle with three school districts whose finances could take a hit from property tax breaks meant to help the team develop the site.

A hearing at the Cook County Board of Review on the most recent property tax assessment is set for June 2. Though Churchill Downs will be on the hook for that payment, the evaluation up for argument at the hearing will also determine the next two years’ worth of property tax bills the team pays to Cook County. The Bears could still appeal the property tax evaluation for next year or the year after, which could bring down their property tax bill in the future.

Meanwhile, the school districts and the team have been locked in a standoff regarding how much the team should pay in property taxes. The school districts have suggested the team settle on a land value of $95 million, which team President Kevin Warren called a “nonstarter.”

In Springfield, lawmakers’ thoughts have moved on from a quartet of proposals geared toward providing the team with economic assistance to move from Chicago’s Soldier Field to Arlington Heights. The most recent measure, an amendment to an earlier proposal filed by Rep. Marty Moylan, a Des Plaines Democrat, has local support from former village trustee and freshman Rep. Mary Beth Canty, an Arlington Heights Democrat.