First agreement outlines public financing, zoning changes for Bears project at Arlington

It's far from final approval, but a proposed agreement between Arlington Heights and the Chicago Bears - reviewed publicly for the first time Monday night by the village board - starts to pave the way for what could be the NFL franchise's new home in the suburbs.

The nine-page predevelopment agreement suggests future zoning changes and public financing that could make the Bears' $5 billion redevelopment vision for the 326-acre Arlington Park property a reality.

But, village officials were quick to caution, nothing in the document is to be interpreted as an obligation to take any actions, and the agreement can be terminated at any time.

They said it's the first of many agreements and contracts that will be necessary to properly and fully implement the project.

"We know that there's a lot of people out there that assume that a deal between the village and Chicago Bears must have already been worked out, but I can assure anyone watching at home that that isn't the case," Village Manager Randy Recklaus said at a committee of the whole meeting that was sparsely attended by the public, but for two attorneys and three consultants working for the Bears. "This is a significant undertaking, and while all of the parties are moving forward in good faith and with great purpose, it's an understatement to say that this project is complex."

Recklaus and village officials said they're willing to explore the general idea of an NFL stadium and mixed-use development on the shuttered racetrack site but will need much more information in order to weigh in on the team's proposal in a formal way.

"The village is committed to taking all the time and collecting all information necessary to ensure any deal is in best interest of our residents," Recklaus said.

The Bears consultants and attorneys presented their conceptual plans to the board Monday in what was an amended version of their public presentation at John Hersey High School about a month ago. The mixed-use transit-oriented development proposes an enclosed football stadium, one or more hotels, other commercial and retail uses, a fitness center, a sportsbook, a hall of fame, a performance venue, restaurants, residences, open space and parks.

"The goal from the standpoint of the Bears is just to create a road map so that we can have a foundation on which all of us can work together to try to find a framework in which a feasible project can be designed collaboratively, and then ultimately pursued," said Paul Shadle, an attorney from DLA Piper, who is representing the club.

The predevelopment agreement spells out what Bears brass have said previously: that they will ask the village and other governmental entities to enter into a "public-private partnership" to fund a portion of infrastructure costs, but not the construction cost of the stadium itself.

That could include tax increment financing steering property tax money into the project, special service areas in which property owners within the areas pay a special tax, special assessments, the creation of a business district with an extra sales tax in the redevelopment area, and a parking tax, the draft document revealed.

The village is willing to discuss "the use of project-generated revenue to support public financing tools and options for the project only to the extent justified by economic and fiscal analyses conducted by the village" and its consultants, the agreement states.

That declaration comes a week after the village board roundly rejected Americans for Prosperity Illinois' anti-corporate welfare ordinance that would have prevented the municipality from offering or extending any financial incentive to any business or corporation to operate in the village, including the Bears. Village board members and administrators have defended their use of public financing as tools in their economic development toolbox.

Recklaus reiterated Monday night that public financing is going to be considered only if the Bears' proposal will generate a net fiscal benefit, where there's an increase in tax revenues for the village above current levels, even after factoring in new costs incurred from the redevelopment.

The agreement calls for the village to review and consider amendments to its 2015 comprehensive plan, which currently contemplates a mixed-use development at Arlington Park, but not an NFL stadium specifically. It also proposes changes to the village zoning code, including creation of a new specialty zoning district for the property instead of the current business/automotive-type district.

After those changes, the Bears may file applications for the necessary zoning approvals, the agreement says.

The document also calls for a future community benefits agreement that would lay out contributions the team is expected to make as a result of the development's impact on residents and businesses.

The board is set to vote on the agreement Nov. 7.

A closing on the Bears' pending $197.2 million purchase from racetrack owner Churchill Downs Inc. is scheduled for later this year or early next. Only then would the village begin a more formal review of the plan, including a review of the team's economic impact, financial and transportation studies.

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An artist's rendering shows the view from the proposed Chicago Bears stadium at Arlington Park, looking east onto a central green and mixed-use district, with downtown Chicago in the distance. Courtesy of Chicago Bears
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