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The deal for a new Arlington Heights stadium continues

Arlington Heights trustees on Monday began a new phase of negotiations with the Chicago Bears, approving a redevelopment agreement with the ball club to manage the possible redevelopment of Arlington International Racecourse.

The preliminary development agreement does not commit to the soccer club, which has proposed a $5 billion stadium and mixed-use development on 326 acres.

But this is the most concrete evidence that the village really intends to move forward with the project in cooperation with the team.

Trustees made the final vote after a series of public comments that accused the village of a lack of transparency, with public commentator Keith Moens calling the approval a “rubber stamp.”

“So far, we’ve given everything that billionaire Bears has asked for,” Moens said. “When will this council say no to them?”

Arlington Heights Mayor Thomas Hayes “wholeheartedly” disagreed with Moens’ characterization.

“I think we’ve been completely transparent throughout this whole process,” he said.

Village Manager Randy Recklaus, Bears officials and other village officials also emphasized how preliminary discussions about the racetrack’s future have been.

Commentator Chris Hibbert was not convinced.

“It feels like this process is going to be one vote after another, where no vote on its own is going to have any results, but somewhere we’ve passed the point of no return without more public discussion,” he said.

During the meeting, the third to discuss the preliminary development agreement, village leaders emphasized that the document does not include any specific commitments to the Chicago Bears and that the details of the entire project are still to come. .

Other trustees also rejected the idea that the project was pre-approved or that the village had already been sold after the bears were brought on site.

Trustee John Scaletta asked Bears general counsel Cliff Stein to confirm that the two met for the second time that night, with the first meeting occurring at the Oct. 10 Committee of the Whole meeting.

“It’s hard to make a backroom deal when I don’t know you,” Scaletta told Stein.

Scaletta was also concerned about the plans themselves. He acknowledged that he raised these concerns at the Oct. 10 meeting, but wanted to put them on the record again at a meeting with more attendees.

Scaletta still wasn’t a fan of transit-oriented development, which emphasizes public transit and pedestrians rather than cars as a means of transportation.

“There’s too much going on, like 10 pounds of sugar in a five-pound bag,” he said.

Scaletta, along with Trustee Jim Tinaglia, was one of two votes against the original plans at the Oct. 10 meeting. He said he repeated his comments because he knew the stakes were high.

“We don’t remember this being a significant renovation, as Mr. Recklaus mentioned, the largest in our state, possibly the largest in the country,” Scaletta said. “And this village board is committed to doing the right thing.”

Tinaglia, for his part, reiterated his concern that the proposed plans would take away from downtown Arlington Heights and wished the racetrack was rezoned into something other than transit-oriented residential and commercial development.

“I would be very careful how married our developers or our staff or anyone comes to the site plan,” Tinaglia said. It’s hard to go back and start all over again – also very expensive.”

Tinalia said he would not support the seating plans the Bears brought to the board meeting. But he and all other trustees voted to ratify the predevelopment agreement as a first step and a gesture of willingness to work with the Bears.

A sense of cooperation with few details of the plan, if articulated at all, appears in a memo accompanying the draft agreement. In that memo, village staff say the document is intended to “establish and publicly announce intent.”

“Given the early stage of the project, the staff and the Chicago Bears believe it is premature to make such a commitment,” the memo said. “However, we both agree that it is important that all stakeholders understand the intentions and goals of the Village and the Chicago Bears.”

In September 2021, the Bears entered into an agreement to purchase the indoor racetrack for $197.2 million. The purchase is not yet complete. Meanwhile, the team has proposed a mixed-use development that would include commercial and residential areas, as well as a domed NFL stadium. Trustees also previously approved a permit for on-site sports betting, but only in conjunction with a professional sports stadium.

A source of contention was how the project would be paid for.

The Bears have made it clear that they will seek some form of government funding for any project they undertake.

At a public meeting in September held at John Hersey High School, Bears owner Ted McCaskey told a crowd of about 700 in attendance that “we’re going to need some help” to implement the team’s lavishly illustrated rebuild.

McCaskey emphasized at that meeting that every NFL stadium built in the past 20 years has received some financial assistance from the host community, often in the form of tax credits for utility infrastructure. The Bears have pledged not to ask for any government money to build the stadium itself.

The village, for its part, has been careful not to offer public assistance to the bears, with Mayor Tom Hayes telling residents at a recent meeting, “Please remember that the village has to say yes.”

The pre-development agreement makes clear whether and how the village can provide public money to the team, but lists a number of possible taxpayer funding options, including “special service areas; special assessments; creating a business district and introducing a business district tax for the project area; introduction of a parking fee on the project territory; and collection of other taxes levied by the project.’

The most discussed public financing option for the project so far has been the tax increment financing district, where property taxes would be frozen in the area at a certain level, and the difference in revenue over a certain period of time would be returned to the project as opposed to being collected by the tax authorities.

Some residents have openly opposed the idea, known as a TIF district, and Americans for Prosperity, a libertarian-conservative group funded by the Koch brothers, organized a petition demanding a new ordinance bar the village from offering public money to any business that wants to open in this area.

That petition received a cold reception from the village board, and trustees unanimously rejected the draft ordinance, with Hayes calling it a “terrible idea.”

Americans for Prosperity has an opportunity to collect more signatures to put this ordinance to the voters as a referendum at the next election. – Next year.

The TIF district would also affect the taxing authorities that typically take property tax revenue from the racetrack, especially school districts.

Palatine Unified School District 15 Superintendent Lori Heintz recently wrote to the village board asking for more information about potential forms of state aid for the project and warned that “locking up billions of dollars (of uniform assessed value) in a TIF district for 23 years would be a real concern for our district”.

“Anyone who tries to do a serious analysis … at this early stage is just getting ahead of themselves,” Reklaus said.


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