In Arlington Heights, brokers bullish on Bears deal

Deal to buy 326-acre racecourse expected to spur residential, commercial development

Chicago /
Oct.October 01, 2021 12:51 PM
The Arlington International Racecourse (Getty)

The Arlington International Racecourse (Getty)

The Chicago Bears’ move to the suburbs is stirring passions on both sides of the city limits, with hometown fans bemoaning the loss to the city and real estate brokers in the team’s potential new home of Arlington Heights celebrating the impact it would have on development.

The Bears agreed to buy the Arlington International Racecourse property about 30 miles northwest of the city’s downtown. While the deal hasn’t yet been finalized, the team said it is still exploring its potential. The 326-acre property is situated off a major highway, has its own stop on the Metra commuter rail, and is surrounded by industrial space where a range of commercial and residential projects could be developed around a new stadium.

“I think the real domino effect is going to be the spurring of entertainment districts — lots of bars, restaurants. It’s going to attract a lot of nightlife and opportunity,’’ said Jason Wurtz, executive vice president at commercial real estate firm NAI Hiffman. “There aren’t just going to be football games there. People are going to do sports, music, soccer in the stadium.”

About 2 million square feet of commercial property is located within a one-mile radius of the Arlington International Racecourse, with nearly 18 percent of the property vacant, according to CoStar. Expanding the radius to two miles, commercial property space jumps to 9.5 million square feet, with about 13 percent of the space being vacant.

“I would assume that whoever buys this, they’re going to spin off a lot of parcels to create more retail or some type of contained urban center that’s going to have retail, restaurants, maybe even multifamily,” Wurtz said.

For some Bears fans, the move from Soldier Field and the vibrant downtown area after more than 50 years would be a betrayal at a time when the city is struggling to overcome the effects of the pandemic, which has particularly hurt the lodging, retail and entertainment industries. Even if Chicago is able to replace the revenue lost from the Bears with new uses for the old stadium, the psychological impact will take some time to get over.

“The Bears are like those girls I went to college with who said they were from Chicago but really lived 30 miles away in the suburbs,” said Twitter user Molly Beck, mocking the team’s decision to exit the city-owned stadium they have played in since 1971.

Revenue for Soldier Field plummeted to $14.8 million last year due to the pandemic. An income of $6.5 million annually in lease payments to the city would stop, which is a blow to Mayor Lori Lightfoot who is trying to close a $733 million budget deficit.

The city would also lose the money spent by fans during home games and would have to find a way to replace those streams of revenue.

“They’ll lose their share of ticket tax, which is not an insignificant amount of money,” said Marc Gani, president of Sportscorp. “They’ll lose some hotel and tourist money that comes in. It’s not ideal, but it shouldn’t be such a meaningful drop.”

He added: “They’ll see how they can find other ways to make up for it by putting other events in Soldier Field and in the area around it.”

The whole racecourse site is about six times bigger than SoFi stadium, the home of the Los Angeles Rams, which opened in the Los Angeles suburb of Inglewood last year.

For Arlington Heights, ample parking space, more luxury boxes and potential to build a domed stadium could bring winter sports to the area — main factors that will bring in more foot traffic to the suburban city, about a 45-minute drive from Chicago.

“It’s going to bring in tax dollars to the community which would theoretically go back into infrastructure and supporting communities,” said Wurtz.

With the rise of residential and commercial properties forecast to go hand in hand, Class A apartment developments would also be likely.

“They [The Bears] are going to draw in tons of volume. With hotels will come the residential side of things, Airbnb, condo-style living, and apartment-style living,” said Nick Blackshaw, principal agent of the Blackshaw Messel Group.

“This won’t necessarily have an impact on our immediate plans, but as it goes forward and as it becomes more certain, it will certainly encourage us to find more additional sites, said Chris Coleman, vice president of development from Wingspan Development Group whose company has been based in the northwest suburbs of Chicago for more than 40 years.

With a new Bears stadium west of the city, home prices would also rise in the south and east, where the median price for a three- or four-bedroom house is about $400,000, said Michael Flinchbaugh, broker associate at the Lord Companies.

For comparison, since it was first rumored that SoFi stadium would rise in Inglewood, median home prices jumped about 83 percent from $299,900 in 2014 to nearly $550,000 in February 2019.

For Bears fans living near Soldier Field, the Bears’ departure would be a special kind of heartbreak, and damage Chicago’s reputation as a great sports town, and a place where people and businesses are coming, rather than leaving.

“This will be two for two examples recently in the Lakefront area where projects have not gone forward or tamed,” said Ganim referring to losing the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art to Los Angeles after a plan to build in Chicago was abandoned in 2016 because of opposition to a proposed lakefront location.





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