Marking a significant step in the Chicago Bears’ proposal to move to Arlington Heights, the team Wednesday filed paperwork to begin demolition of Arlington International Racecourse.
The team said the first phase would begin with gutting the interior of the grandstand, and that any exterior demolition would come later.
Team officials emphasized that this does not mean they’re going ahead with the $5 billion plan to build a new enclosed stadium with housing, bars and restaurants on the site. The team has asked to first determine what taxes it would be paying and has said it needs a public subsidy to help pay to build infrastructure like roads and utilities, before it could go forward.
The Bears bought the 326-acre former horse track this year for $197 million.
The demolition announcement comes a day after Crain’s Chicago Business reported that the Cook County assessor raised the assessed value of the property to roughly equal the purchase price.
If approved by taxing authorities, the increase would likely raise the annual property tax to about $16 million, though it was only about $3 million when the near-century-old track was operating, before Churchill Downs Inc. closed it in 2021.
While the demolition is underway, the Bears will be making their case to the county’s Board of Review that the former Arlington Park’s assessed land value is too high. But fearing a whopping property tax bill, the Bears are asking the Board of Review to knock that assessment down to $37.2 million, which the team argues was the land’s appraised value. A hearing is tentatively scheduled for early June.
The team said the demolition was in the works for a while and that the timing had nothing to do with the reassessment — though demolishing the grandstand is likely to significantly lower the property value and resulting taxes. The “improved value” of the site, meaning structures like the grandstand, racetrack, offices, stables and jockey dorms, makes up $168 million of the assessed value.
Removing the building’s heating, air conditioning, electrical, water and other utilities would also reduce maintenance costs. It’s not clear when the structures would be torn down, but if approved by the village, it could happen this year.
The Bears shared the following statement on the tax issue: “Paying property taxes is part of being a member of the community. We want to pay our fair share. But the proposed assessment of the unoccupied property we purchased, and the taxes associated with it, would be more than five times what the property generated when it had an income-producing racetrack operating on it. Arlington Park would not be redeveloped by anyone at such an excessive property tax rate.”
The request for the demolition permit likely ends the hope held by some that horse racing could resume at the site in the shadow of a new stadium.