- Chicago’s Arlington Park race track is up for sale by owners Churchill Downs Incorporated (CDI).
- The facility will likely be redeveloped though CDI is committing to relocate the racing license to another community in Illinois–hopefully near Chicago.
- The planned sale is not expected to impact Arlington’s 2021 meet.
It wasn’t that long ago that California’s Hollywood Park held its final racing card. Horse racing and training at the park in Inglewood was shut down in 2013 though the adjacent casino remained open until 2016. The real estate market in the Los Angeles area was such that the land the track was built on was more valuable for redevelopment purposes than it was for running a racetrack. Today, the entire 260 acre parcel is in the process of becoming a master planned neighborhood. One major project–the Los Angeles Rams and Chargers new home aka SoFi Stadium–is already in operation.
It now looks as if Chicago’s historic Arlington Park racetrack (the official name is now ‘Arlington International Racecourse’) will meet a similar fate. The facility was opened in 1927 and has survived war, fires and a two year shutdown to become one of the country’s best known horse racing facilities. Among other things, it introduced the Arlington Million in 1981 which was the first million dollar race in the sport. A decade earlier, it held the first commercially sponsored $100k race in the US–the Pontiac Grand Prix.
Now it is a significant underdog to survive the same thing that did in Hollywood Park–the booming demand for real estate in the Chicago area. Track owner Churchill Downs Incorporated (CDI) has announced that they’ve launched the process to sell the 326 acres in Arlington Heights, Illinois where the track is currently located. The plan is to sell the parcel for redevelopment–ironically, one speculated use is as a new home for the NFL Chicago Bears.
Churchill Downs Incorporated (NASDAQ: CHDN) was expected to make this move which they announced a couple of days prior to the company’s Q4 earnings call held on February 25. The Illinois Racing Board got into a squabble with CDI in 2019 after the company would not commit to live racing at Arlington Park past 2021. That put the proverbial ‘writing on the wall’ and now it looks as if Arlington’s days are numbered. CDI is committed to running the 2021 meet at Arlington from April 30 through September 25 and any sale wouldn’t be expected to close before then anyway.
THE FUTURE OF THOROUGHBRED RACING IN CHICAGOLAND IS CLOUDY
The not unexpected announcement by CDI now puts the future of horse racing in the Chicago area in serious doubt. In the press release formally announcing the start of the sale process Bill Carstanjen, CEO of CDI, explained why the real estate is so valuable while stressing that the company is ‘exploring potential options’ to relocate Arlington’s racing license to ‘another community in the Chicagoland area or elsewhere in the state.’
“Arlington’s ideal location in Chicago’s northwest suburbs, together with direct access to downtown Chicago via an on-site Metra rail station, presents a unique redevelopment opportunity. We expect to see robust interest in the site and look forward to working with potential buyers, in collaboration with the Village of Arlington Heights, to transition this storied location to its next phase.”
“In the meantime, we are very committed to pursuing the relocation of Arlington’s racing license to another community in the Chicagoland area or elsewhere in the state. We are exploring potential options with the State and other constituents and remain optimistic that we can find solutions that work for the State, local communities and the thousands of Illinoisans who make their living directly or indirectly from thoroughbred horse racing. We are committed to the Illinois thoroughbred racing industry and will consider all options in working toward opportunities for it to continue into the future.”
CDI also operates a BetAmerica sports betting facility at the track. They’ve previously announced plans to rebrand BetAmerica under the better known TwinSpires name.
CEO Carstanjen mentioned the Arlington Park sale at the outset of CDI’s Q4 earnings call but didn’t really add anything new to what he said in the press release:
“We announced this week that we are initiating the sales process for the Arlington Park racetrack land. We will conduct racing in 2021 at the track while moving forward with the transaction to sell this highly desirable land for other non-horseracing mixed used options. It is our intention to work constructively with state and local authorities to find a solution to continue thoroughbred operations in Illinois, and we look forward to further constructive dialog as we explore our alternatives. I’m optimistic that state and local authorities are interested in finding the path forward with us.”
Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes tried to feign some sadness at the looming end of the race track though his qualification that revenue from horse racing “wasn’t as much as some people might expect” and that the proposed mixed use development “will likely end up seeing a greater amount of revenue” made his true feelings crystal clear:
“It’s a sad day when you lose a business that’s been our primary attraction for more than 100 years. We already have our planning department working on what we could do to encourage something that could put this unique property to its highest and best use.”
No word yet from the Illinois Racing Board on their plans to help facilitate the relocation of Arlington’s racing license.