Workers began demolition Tuesday inside the former Arlington International Racetrack, another nail in the coffin for the legendary racetrack and a step towards a potential new stadium for the Chicago Bears.
A backhoe, other heavy construction equipment and workers were seen outside the grand edifice, which won architectural honors and hosted up to 32,000 fans for nationally acclaimed races before being closed by Churchill Downs Inc. in 2021.
Team officials stressed that they still cannot proceed with their plans for a closed $5 billion stadium, housing and entertainment complex until they determine what the property taxes and obtain public funding to support infrastructure.
The demolition, estimated at $3.8 million, is expected to lower the value of the property for the next tax year, which should lower taxes on the site — a bone of contention between the team and the school districts that get most of the tax revenue.
Prior to demolition, the Cook County Assessor’s Office recently increased the property’s value to $197 million, about the sale price paid by the team to purchase the 326-acre site earlier this year . This would raise taxes on the site to around $16 million, from less than $3 million when it operated as a racetrack.
The Bears are trying to negotiate a lower assessment with three local school districts that collect property taxes. A deal would provide certainty for all parties involved: the team for its tax bills and the districts for the revenue they rely on. If the team were successful in getting a lower rating from the state or the courts, the districts might have to fork out a massive refund.
Palatine Community Consolidated School District 15, Arlington Heights-based Township High School District 214, and Palatine-based Township High School District 211 offered a $95 million valuation. School officials plan to attract more students to the site if it is developed with apartments and condominiums.
The Bears called that number a “non-starter” for a property they say will have no commercial use — and likely no new students — for at least two years.
A property value hearing is scheduled for Friday before the Cook County Board of Review. Beyond interior demolition, the team has applied for a permit to demolish the grandstand and other structures this summer.
The work could increase truck traffic in the area, and village officials said the property will continue to be monitored by security 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The adjacent Metra train station and parking lot will remain open at audience.
Alpine Demolition Services of St. Charles is carrying out the demolition.
Curators have mourned the loss of a treasure that Architectural Digest called one of the finest racetracks in the world. The park, which opened in 1927, was extensively rebuilt by then-owner Richard Duchossois and reopened in 1989 after a fire destroyed the original structure.
“It’s a beautiful facility and it seems tragic to be lost,” said Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago. “It’s unfortunate to tear down this incredible structure before we have solid plans moving forward. It seems like a backwards way of working.
Marushka Stefaniva of Palatine, who takes the park train to work, welcomed the economic boost from a bears move, but worried about traffic and lamented the park’s destruction.
“What a shame,” she said. “They should reuse that. I’m from Europe – we don’t demolish buildings.
Tribune reporter AD Quig and Tribune photographer Stacey Westcott contributed.