Resistance to state money for Bears' redevelopment of Arlington Park added to legislation

The Chicago Bears' chances of receiving state subsidies for a possible redevelopment of Arlington Park faced mounting opposition from Springfield lawmakers Tuesday.

Inserted into a bill creating a $400 million large business attraction fund was language barring "economic incentives to a professional sports organization that moves its operations from one location in the state to another location in the state."

While the prohibition would so far apply only to subsidies from the "closing fund," a special business fund to be controlled by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, opposition is growing to other types of funding the NFL franchise might seek to help partially fund a proposed $5 billion redevelopment of the shuttered racetrack.

"There is significant resistance to potential future programs that might benefit the Bears," said state Rep. Mark Walker, an Arlington Heights Democrat. "But no decisions are imminent."

The measure to create the closing fund - seen as a way to attract electric vehicle-related companies to Illinois in particular - was considered on the final full day of the final legislative session before new lawmakers are sworn in Wednesday. It passed on a 86-23 vote on the House floor Tuesday night after a short debate and was headed back to the Senate after an earlier version passed there nearly a year ago.

Earlier Tuesday morning, the latest version of the bill advanced out of the House Revenue And Finance Committee in a motion formally made by Walker.

But the addition of the Bears subsidy ban was offered as part of an amendment Monday by the bill's sponsor, outgoing state Rep. Mike Zalewski, a Riverside Democrat and the committee chairman.

Zalewski and state Rep. Kam Buckner, a Chicago Democrat and mayoral candidate whose district includes Soldier Field, sponsored a resolution in September 2021 that urged their colleagues "to take all necessary steps to ensure that no state or local taxpayer money is used in the construction of new professional sport stadiums." That resolution was filed a day after the Bears announced they had a pending $197.2 million deal for the 326-acre property at Euclid and Wilke roads.

Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes declined to comment on the inclusion of a Bears incentive ban in the closing fund bill, saying he hadn't seen the legislation specifically. But, he said, questions over public funding for the Bears have become "political."

A Bears spokesman also declined to comment.

The club has been exploring use of a program called Payments in Lieu of Taxes as a financing mechanism that would allow it to pay less than the regular property taxes on the sprawling site.

As suggested in a predevelopment agreement with Arlington Heights, the team said it would explore a host of "public-private partnerships." That could include tax increment financing steering property tax money from schools and other local governments into the project, special service areas in which property owners within the development 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.

Hayes said a closing on the property sale is weeks away.

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