Home Local Arlington Heights OKs agreement to move forward with new Chicago Bears stadium

Arlington Heights OKs agreement to move forward with new Chicago Bears stadium

by staff

Arlington Heights trustees Monday kicked off a new phase of negotiations with the Chicago Bears by approving a pre-development agreement with the football club to guide a possible redevelopment of Arlington International Racecourse.

The pre-development agreement does not make commitments to the football club, which has proposed a $5 billion stadium and mixed-use development for the 326-acre site.


But it is the most concrete indication so far that the village does intend to move ahead with the project in collaboration with the team.

Trustees took the final vote on the heels of a series of public comments that accused the village of not acting transparently enough, with public commenter Keith Moens calling the approval a “rubber stamp.”


“So far we have given everything the billionaire Bears have asked for,” Moens said. “When will this board say no to them?”

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

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

Village Manager Randy Recklaus, representatives from the Bears and other village staff also emphasized how preliminary the discussions still were regarding the future of the racecourse.

Commenter Chris Hiebert was not convinced.

“It feels like this process is going to be one vote after another where no vote in and of itself is consequential, but somewhere we’ve crossed the point of no return without a broader citizen discussion,” he said.

Throughout the meeting, which was the third at which the pre-development agreement has been discussed, village leadership emphasized the document does not set out any concrete commitments to the Chicago Bears and that the details of the entire project still lie ahead to be hammered out.

Other trustees also pushed back on the idea that the project was pre-approved or that the village was already sold on bringing the Bears to the site.


Trustee John Scaletta asked Bears General Counsel Cliff Stein to confirm that that evening was the second time they had met, with the first time being the Oct. 10 Committee of the Whole meeting.

“It’s kind of hard to make a backroom deal if I don’t know you,” Scaletta said to Stein.

Scaletta also had concerns about the plans themselves. He acknowledged he’d aired those concerns at the Oct. 10 meeting but wanted to put them on the record again at a better-attended meeting.

Scaletta still was not a fan of the transit-oriented development, which emphasizes public transit and pedestrianism over cars as a means of getting around.

“There’s way 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 vocal objectors to the initial plans at the Oct. 10 meeting. He said he was reiterating his comments because he knew the stakes are high.


“It isn’t lost on us that this is a significant redevelopment, as Mr. Recklaus mentioned – the biggest in our state, maybe the biggest in the country,” Scaletta said. “And this village board is committed to getting it right.”

Tinaglia, for his part, repeated his worries that the plans as presented would take away from Arlington Heights’ downtown and his wish for a redevelopment of the racecourse to be something besides a transit-oriented residential and commercial development.

“I would be really careful how married our developers or our staff or anyone gets to the site plan,” Tinaglia said.” It’s hard to go backwards and start over – really expensive too.”

Tinaglia said he wouldn’t support the site plans the Bears put before the board. But he, and all the other trustees, voted to ratify the predevelopment agreement as a first step and a gesture of willingness to work with the Bears.

The sentiment of working together, with few if any particulars of a plan nailed down, appears in the memo accompanying the draft agreement. In that memo, village staff state the document is for “establishing and publicly stating intent.”

“Given the early stage of the project, staff and the Chicago Bears believe it is too early to establish such commitments,” the memo says. “However, we both agree that it is important that all stakeholders understand the intent and goals of the Village and the Chicago Bears.”


The Bears entered into a $197.2 million purchase agreement for the now-shuttered racecourse in September 2021. The purchase has not yet been finalized. In the meantime, though, the team has proposed a mixed-use development that would include commercial and resident areas, as well as a domed NFL stadium. Trustees also previously approved allowing a sports betting facility at the site — but only in conjunction with a professional sports stadium.

How the project would be paid for has been a source of contention.

The Bears have made clear that they will ask for some public financial assistance with any project they undertake.


At a public meeting in September held at John Hersey High School, Bears owner Ted McCaskey told the crowd of about 700 people in attendance “we will need help” to make the lushly illustrated redevelopment the team has proposed a reality.

McCaskey emphasized at that meeting that every NFL stadium built in the last 20 years has had some type of financial assistance from the host community, often in the form of tax breaks for public utility infrastructure. The Bears have committed to not asking for any public money to build the stadium structure itself.

The village, for its part, has been careful to not commit to offering public assistance to the Bears, with Mayor Tom Hayes telling residents at a recent meeting “please remember the village has to say yes.”

The predevelopment agreement does make an explicit statement about whether or how the village might give the team public money, but does list a number of possible options for taxpayer financing including a “special service areas; special assessments; the creation of a business district and imposition of a business district tax for the Project area; imposition of a parking tax within the Project area; and imposition of other taxes generated by the Project.”

The most-discussed option for public funding of the project so far has been a tax increment financing district where property taxes would be frozen in the area at a particular level, with the difference in revenue over a set period of time going back into the project as opposed to being collected by taxing bodies.

Some residents have been vocally opposed to the idea, known as a TIF district, and Americans for Prosperity, a Libertarian-conservative group funded by the Koch brothers, has organized a petition pushing for a new ordinance that would bar the village from offering public money to any business looking to open in the area.


That petition got a frosty reception from village leadership and trustees unanimously rejected the draft ordinance, with Hayes calling it a “terrible idea.”

Americans for Prosperity does have the option to gather more signatures in order to put the ordinance out to voters as a referendum in the next election. — next year.

A TIF district would also impact the taxing bodies that ordinarily take property tax revenue from the racecourse site, particularly school districts.

The superintendent of Palatine Community Consolidated School District 15, Laurie Heinz, recently wrote to village leadership asking for more information on potential forms of public assistance for the project and warning that “locking up billions of dollars of (equalized assessed value) in a TIF district for 23 years would be a real concern for our District.”

“Anyone who is trying to do any serious analysis … at this early stage is just getting a little ahead of themselves,” Recklaus said.

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