A little more than a century ago, George Halas took to the gridiron in downstate Decatur on the team that would soon become the Chicago Bears.
Only seven years later, in 1927 in Arlington Heights, thousands gathered to see horses race for the first time at Arlington Park, watching what was then one of America’s most popular sports.
The founding NFL franchise’s decision to make an offer to buy the 326-acre racetrack property now has boosters of the sport of kings raising the possibility that both Bears and horses could coexist at a redeveloped, re-imagined Arlington Park.
“With regard to the Bears, I’ve seen site plans that show the track and a new Bears stadium. They can absolutely coexist on a property of that size,” said Matt Murphy, the former Republican Palatine state legislator-turned-lobbyist who is working for a group that put in a bid to preserve the racetrack and redevelop around it. “As someone from this area, I think it’s kind of exciting to think what that dual-use property could mean for the area.
“To me, that’s a concept that I don’t know that a lot of people have contemplated yet, but I think people should dare to dream what that would look like.”
To be clear, the proposal Murphy is backing — officially submitted last Tuesday to Arlington Park owner Churchill Downs Inc. by one-time track President Roy Arnold and a consortium of developers and investors — calls for the track and grandstand to remain in place, while a mid-size arena suitable for a minor league hockey team is constructed. It would be part of a 60-acre entertainment district, next to a 300-unit housing development and 60-acre industrial space.
But after the Bears’ bombshell announcement last Thursday expressing formal interest in the prime real estate at Euclid and Wilke roads, Arnold said Friday he’d welcome informal conversations with the Bears about a potential partnership. The smaller arena concept could easily be substituted for a larger NFL stadium, Arnold said.
“No one has reached out to me, but there’s 326 acres, so it’s not impossible to consider that there would be an opportunity for both venues to co-habitate and have a joint entertainment district,” Arnold said. “I haven’t seen where the Bears would envision being located, but certainly the space is there for…