State senator whose district includes Arlington Park opposes possible Bears TIF

State Sen. Ann Gillespie - whose district includes the 326-acre Arlington Park property - is adding her voice to those opposed to possible tax increment financing support for the proposed Chicago Bears redevelopment.

Gillespie, an Arlington Heights Democrat who is sponsor of legislation to reform the controversial TIF process, questioned the need for the local property tax help during conversations about the NFL franchise's possible move to the shuttered racetrack, where the team has proposed a $5 billion mixed-use redevelopment.

"My particular problem with TIF support for this is there's no 'but if.' They're already here. They've already declared their intention to buy the property," Gillespie said during an interview with the Daily Herald Editorial Board ahead of the upcoming election. "And so I'm not seeing how it meets the 'but for' requirement of a TIF. And I've said that point blank to the village officials as well."

Gillespie's comments come as the village board is set to vote on a predevelopment agreement with the Bears on Monday that outlines possible "public-private partnerships" the team may explore, including a TIF. The club hasn't specifically said if it would seek assistance from the special taxing mechanism - where property taxes above a certain level would be diverted away from schools and other taxing bodies into the Bears' project - but officials have made a pitch for at least some type of public financing to help pay for site infrastructure costs outside of a privately-financed stadium.

Opposition to a Bears TIF is being led by Americans for Prosperity Illinois Deputy State Director Brian Costin and Palatine Township Elementary District 15 Superintendent Laurie Heinz. Northwest Suburban High School District 214 Superintendent David Schuler has said he's at least open to the idea, as long as it met the spirit and letter of the state's TIF law.

It's that law that Gillespie, backed by the Illinois Association of School Boards, has sought to change. Though versions of her legislation have been revised since at least 2020, a number of municipalities in and around her 27th District have at one time registered formal opposition to it, including Arlington Heights, Hanover Park, Hoffman Estates, Mount Prospect, Palatine, Rolling Meadows and Schaumburg.

Gillespie's proposal would tighten the definition of "blighted" in the TIF Act to include areas where certain percentages of residents are unemployed, live below the poverty line or receive food stamps. She said there's still some questions about whether "blighted" applies to a lot in the Northwest suburbs.

"TIFs were originally intended to drive economic development in underserved areas where business would not go for a variety of reasons but for - that's a key element - the establishment of a TIF district that provided some tax relief for the businesses and the developer," she said. "What's happening is that because the definitions of what constitutes 'blighted area' are pretty vague and very subjective, we're seeing a lot of areas that most people would not - in a common sense conversation - call 'blighted' being used to develop TIFs."

Gillespie has also proposed that local taxing bodies like schools, parks and libraries have more say in the process; the most recent draft of the bill would require joint review boards to unanimously sign off on the creation of a TIF. That's currently required only when a town wants to extend the life of a TIF to 35 years from the 23 it starts with.

Arlington Heights officials have defended their use of TIFs and other incentives as necessary economic development tools, and they've left open the door to providing some assistance to the Bears. But Mayor Tom Hayes has also said tax help would be "a last resort."

While Gillespie's proposed TIF changes face an uphill climb as part of the legislative process, she and her colleagues in Springfield have a more direct say on whether to give the Bears any state money.

On that issue, Gillespie has also left open the door, but she cautioned that the team would have to demonstrate that its redevelopment would further another public interest - something she said she told top team officials during a private meeting.

"I think there's a general consensus in the General Assembly and in the executive branch that we need to be extremely careful about doing any taxpayer-funded subsidies of private enterprise that doesn't provide a benefit back to the state," she said. "The Bears are a wealthy organization. They have the ability to fund this without taxpayer subsidy, or to access other resources to do so."

Gillespie's Republican opponent in next Tuesday's election, Bill Robertson - a former Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 board member and Fremont Elementary District 79 superintendent - didn't respond to requests for comment about his views on possible Bears subsidies and TIFs.

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Ann Gillespie, from left, and Bill Robertson are candidates for the 27th District state Senate seat in the 2022 general election.
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