No real 'forward progress': Bears redevelopment could take at least a decade, officials say

Officials at Arlington Heights village hall are more than two years into their work on the Arlington Park redevelopment project, but most agreed Monday it could be at least another decade until the Bears kick off at a new stadium there.

That's amid the additional planning, studies, negotiations and approvals still to come, though officials didn't provide a more exact timeline during a village board committee meeting that was mostly focused on what they've done to date.

"I find everybody has the realization that this will go on for 5, 10 (years) and the property itself could not completely develop - maybe we'll have a stadium but not a complete development - for more than 10 years," Trustee Jim Bertucci said after the interdepartmental reports of village department heads. "And I find everybody willing to do what they can. Certainly the board has elections every two years. Some of you gentlemen will not live or work forever. ... I find everybody willing to carry the ball forward, so to speak, as far as they can until they need to hand it off."

Trustee Jim Tinaglia - a critic of the Bears' initial $5 billion mixed-use redevelopment plans for the shuttered racetrack - also made allusions to football, noting there's been no real "forward progress" in revisions to the site design presented by the Bears last fall.

Nor have village consultants hired around the same time to analyze the economic, traffic and parking impacts done anything, since the Bears haven't formally submitted plans and economic studies of their own to the village, officials said.

"We thought we'd be further along than we are today," said Charles Witherington-Perkins, the village's director of planning and community development.

But, Brian Costin, deputy state director of Americans for Prosperity Illinois - a vocal critic of potential Bears subsidies - interjected from the audience that the NFL club did submit some important paperwork to village hall last week: a request for a demolition permit.

Costin argued approving the permit would be an "enormous risk" to taxpayers, especially if legislation giving the Bears a massive property tax break in Springfield is approved. Or, he said, if the village approves a tax increment financing district, where property taxes are steered away from local governments into the development.

Village Manager Randy Recklaus said that per the predevelopment agreement the board approved with the team in November, the Bears do intend to ask the village for assistance with site infrastructure costs, but they haven't made that formal ask yet. Recklaus reiterated the village would consider the request only if the redevelopment could generate new revenues to help pay for some of those costs.

While the Bears work on their financing - including an appeal of Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi's reassessment of the 326-acre property - Recklaus said the village and its consultants await further information so they can start their own studies on things like traffic.

"We are just not at a point where we can say exactly what the impact on our residents will be," Recklaus said.

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