Arlington Heights trustees took a step forward last week in the process of allowing the Chicago Bears to proceed with their plans for a redevelopment of Arlington International Racecourse by approving a zoning change that would allow the operation of a sports betting facility in the area.
This facility is part of the Bears’ $5 billion proposal to create a new NFL stadium and a mixed-use commercial and residential district on the 326-acre Arlington Park site. Trustees also greenlit a “road map” agreement, intended to guide further negotiations around the area, for which the team signed a $197.2 million purchase agreement in 2021.
The attention has been mainly focused on the mixed-used development that would take up about two-thirds of the site. Team representatives told trustees that a sportsbook would be a critical component of the NFL-centered portion of the proposed development, the Chicago Tribune reported. “We believe that a sports betting facility will be an integral part of the new stadium development corridor,” Bears General Counsel Cliff Stain stated.
An ordinance establishing an overlay zoning district for the racecourse was approved by the Village Board in 2021. While there was a requirement that any development of the site be part of a broader “planned unit development”, sports betting was not among the approved uses for the site. Monday’s decision changes that, adds the cited source.
Sports betting was legalized in Illinois in 2019. In states that allow the activity, Stein said wagering facilities are becoming the industry standard for new stadium projects, with older stadiums also jumping on the trend. The Chicago Cubs are currently working towards building a sportsbook at Wrigley Field, and similar plans are underway at United Center.
“This is really state of the art for new developments of professional sport stadiums across the country and it really would put you at a competitive disadvantage [to not have the facility alongside the stadium],” Stein said, as reported by the aforementioned source.
Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes stated that there would be no final approval of the sports wagering facility last Monday. Instead, zoning rules were amended to add a facility to the list of allowed entities in the Arlington International Racecourse area.
A staff memo accompanying the ordinance explains that the change only adds a sportsbook to the list of possible special uses in the zone: “At this time, the Village is proposing adding to the Overlay Zone as a Special Use a Sports Wagering Facility. It is important to note that this Ordinance does not approve a Sports Wagering Facility,” the memo retrieved by Chicago Tribune reads.
The village Plan Commission approved last month the recommendation to the Village Board that the use change be made. The change passed the Village Board despite some comments from citizens who said they do not want to see sports betting come to Arlington Heights. Some concerns are related to the sort of people it would attract.
Village leadership has emphasized that so far there is no agreement yet with the Bears and that any plans are in the earliest and more tentative phases of development.