A lobbying firm hired by a trio of school districts that tax the former Arlington International Racecourse site the Chicago Bears recently purchased has begun providing updates on the firm’s work, telling Palatine Community Consolidated School District 15 officials Wednesday night there’s nothing substantial to report — right now.
“So far, we haven’t had any conversations that have resulted in an agreement, but we’re still talking to the Bears and we’re trying to set up a more formal meeting with the Bears,” John Dunn, of the Philadelphia-based Cozen and O’Connor law firm, told board members as part of a legislative update during the meeting.
Lobbyists for the Chicago Bears and the one for a trio of school districts that pull funding from the former horse racing venue have met informally about Senate Bill 1350, a massive property tax incentive bill that could divert billions in tax dollars away from school districts to encourage the football team’s proposed redevelopment at the site.
The bill is sponsored by state Sen. Anne Gillespie, D-Arlington Heights.
Dunn told the SD15 board that he and his two colleagues, Matt Glavin and Sydney Holman, have had “informal conversations” with representatives of the team in Springfield about amending the bill.
With five weeks leftin the current legislative session, Dunn said he and his colleagues would “continue our discussions with them to see if we can make some movement on reaching an agreement.”
Dunn also offered a window into some of the discussions his team has had so far, from legislative leaders to the governor’s office and other lobbying groups.
“We talked to Cook County. We had sort of brief conversations with [the Illinois Federation of Teachers] and the Illinois Association of School Boards and lots of others,” he said.
The Bears officially bought the 326-acre property in February, capping more than a yearlong wait after the NFL team had entered into a $197 million purchase agreement with former site owner Churchill Downs in September 2021.
The team has proposed a sprawling, multi-billion dollar mixed-use redevelopment that would include commercial, residential and entertainment areas, as well as a domed NFL stadium.
The village has not yet vetted any plans and is doing its own research into what the infrastructure and economic needs and impacts such a development would pose, village leaders have said.
A 19-elementary school district, SD15, along with Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 and Township High School District 214, moved in February to hire lobbyists to represent the trio in Springfield after the megaproject SB1350 was introduced.
Additionally Wednesday, Dunn walked board members through the structure of the bill, which he characterized as being similar to a traditional tax increment financing district.
“Technically, it’s not a TIF bill, but it’s kind of the same,” he said. “I would call it a variation of TIF legislation.”
SB1350 provides a framework in which developers investing more than $500 million in a project could be entitled to up to 40 years’ worth of tax breaks. The measure would allow for the property tax level on a particular site to remain flat for 23 years, but offers an option to extend that freeze an additional 17 years if the city or village where the project is located finds that the development provides a “substantial public benefit.”
The legislation provides for a “payment in lieu of taxes,” or PILOT, that a developer would pay to the municipality — on top of the frozen property tax value, but less than what the developer would pay in an ordinary setup. Dunn told board members the issue would be the value of the payment.
“If it’s a big number that would be great for this district [and] the other two districts. And if it’s a small number, it would be great for the Bears,” he said.
For the last two months, the bill has been sitting in the Assignments Committee of the Senate while its House counterpart, HB 3565, is in the legislative limbo of the Rules Committee. Mark Walker, D-Arlington Heights, is sponsoring the House Bill.
As part of the legislation, the municipality would be required to distribute the PILOT in the same proportions ordinary property taxes are distributed to taxing bodies like school, library and mosquito abatement districts.
District 15 enrolls more than 20,000 students from the nearby towns of Palatine, Rolling Meadows, Arlington Heights and Inverness, according to information on the district website.
It pulls property tax revenue from Arlington Park, which the racecourse is also called, and any development decisions stand to have an impact on the district’s financial resources, district leaders have said, and could also affect the number of district students if the residential component of the Bears’ proposal comes to fruition.
SD15 Superintendent Laurie Heinz wrote to Arlington Heights Village Manager Randy Recklaus as early as May 2022 to urge the village against establishing a TIF district for the football team, saying the move would constitute a “real concern” for the school district.
Dunn also cautioned board members that the legislation currently on the table only constituted the “first inning.”
Then he corrected himself. Dealing with the Chicago Bears, this was only the first quarter, he said.
“This is their first shot at how they could fund this development,” he said. “And I think it remains to be seen if they come back to the table with round two of how they seek to fund it.”