District 214 board member to Bears president: Schools want certainty on taxes, too

Chicago Bears President and CEO Kevin Warren said Monday the NFL franchise wants “certainty” over taxes at its new Arlington Heights property.

But so do the school districts whose boundaries encompass the 326-acre site, said a school board member who attended Warren's public appearance.

Frank Fiarito, elected to the Northwest Suburban High School District 214 board in April, said the meeting Monday evening at the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre was “positive.” And he agrees with Warren that both sides need to restart stalled negotiations over property tax payments and assessments.

But Fiarito said he doesn't think Warren thoroughly responded to a question about delays on impact studies, which the school districts and local municipalities have been asking for.

“I think he spoke very eloquently. A lot of what he said was positive. But our biggest concern is we really need to know more about the impact study and the traffic study,” Fiarito said. “To us, that's very important. And like he wants certainty with the taxes, it's the same with the school districts, too.”

It's an example of the chicken and the egg: The Bears want to come to agreement over property tax payments before proceeding with their $5 billion mixed-use commercial and residential redevelopment. But the schools want details first about what such a project would mean for their enrollments and if they'll get commensurate revenues to teach new students and even build new schools.

District 214 covers two-thirds of the sprawling shuttered racetrack property, where the Bears have proposed homes, restaurants, stores, offices and hotels. Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 covers the western third of the site, where a new domed stadium would be. Palatine Township Elementary District 15 covers the entire site.

Underscoring the significance of negotiations over tax payments is what it could mean for local schools' coffers in both the short and long term. While discussions are centered on the 2023 and 2024 assessment years, legislation the NFL franchise is backing in Springfield would freeze the assessment for up to 40 years.

Under the proposed Payments in Lieu of Taxes financing mechanism, annual payments to the schools and other taxing bodies would also be subject to negotiation.

“If we are going to get stuck where it is a PILOT program and taxes are frozen, then obviously we would not benefit,” Fiarito said.

For the 2022 tax year, former Arlington Park owner Churchill Downs Inc. settled with the school districts for a $7.8 million payment. That's right around the amount the districts want the Bears to pay now.

“What made that unique — that was at the end of a business relationship,” Warren said Monday night. “And so sometimes you make decisions at the end of a business relationship that when you look at it from the beginning of a business relationship, it doesn't make sense.”

The Bears have countered with an offer of $4.3 million, arguing it's $1.5 million higher than what Churchill paid the last year the track was in operation. And Warren says the property will be vacant and not generating any income for at least the next two years.

Fiarito was the lone school board member from any of the three districts to attend the hourlong event Monday. It was hosted by Touchdown Arlington, a coalition of Arlington Heights business owners who support the Bears' move to town.

He said he and other District 214 board members haven't been part of the negotiations. Warren last met in person with the districts' superintendents April 18.

“He is right, though. Like any success, it's talking and listening,” Fiarito said. “We have to find some common ground and we have to, at some point in time, ... put things on the table and say, 'We need the traffic study. We need the impact study. We need it now.'”

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Frank Fiarito
  Chicago Bears President and CEO Kevin Warren said at a community meeting in Arlington Heights Monday that a proposed Arlington Park property tax payment of nearly $8 million "doesn't make sense." John Starks/
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