‘We don’t have a deal yet’: Bears and schools $100 million apart on property value of Arlington Park

The Chicago Bears and three Northwest suburban school districts are $100 million apart on how much they think the NFL franchise’s Arlington Park property is worth.

Attorneys for both sides presented their cases to the Cook County Board of Review Tuesday in a rare public display of the property tax battle that’s taken place mostly behind closed doors for nearly a year.

An appraisal presented by Northwest Suburban High School District 214, Palatine Township Elementary District 15 and Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 put the value of the 326-acre property in Arlington Heights at $160 million.

A different appraisal presented by the Bears suggested the land’s value is $60 million.

The final property value will determine how much the Bears pay in taxes to the schools and other taxing bodies.

Last year, former racetrack owner Churchill Downs Inc. agreed to settle with the school districts on a $95 million value, for which the tax bill was $7.8 million. Before the settlement, land appraisals by Churchill and the schools were $113 million apart.

A decision on the 2023 reassessment by the three-member board of review could be weeks away, but comments and questions by the commissioners Tuesday indicated which way they’re leaning.

“It seems to be as if this property was targeted within the context of all the property valuations in the area,” Commissioner Larry Rogers Jr. said of Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi’s July 2023 reassessment of the property to $197 million, which is roughly the same amount the Bears paid for it in February.

Cook County Board of Review Commissioner Larry Rogers Jr.

Rogers agreed with Matthew Tully, the Bears’ property tax attorney, that Kaegi used the so-called valuation method of “sales chasing,” which has been struck down by courts.

“We've seen a lot of problems in terms of the assessments that have come out of the assessor's office,” Rogers said. “And sales chasing is a grave concern in particular with this case, based upon the value that was set by the assessor and the published sale price.”

But Commissioner Samantha Steele said there are other factors, such as personal property and assets, that determine purchase prices, which appraisers and the board have to consider.

Scott Metcalf, an attorney representing the school districts, acknowledged “sales chasing” valuations are improper, but noted there’s other case law that shows sales price “is the best evidence of value.”

He said the value of Arlington Park is in the land, which is prime for redevelopment.

“Vacant parcels are assessed based on the circumstances of each parcel,” Metcalf said.

But Tully disputed the methodology of the schools’ appraisal, which considers data centers and warehouse/distribution facilities as possible uses.

Charles Witherington-Perkins, Arlington Heights’ director of planning and community development, wrote in a July 25, 2023, email to the three school districts that those uses are prohibited by zoning code, and are “not consistent with the village's current thinking for a special and unique regionally or nationally significant development to replace the iconic racetrack facility.”

Tully added that the schools’ appraisal didn’t take into account the demolition of the six-story grandstand and other buildings. Completed in November, the teardowns were done with an eye toward achieving a lower valuation for vacant land.

  Officials with the Chicago Bears acknowledge demolition of the Arlington Park grandstand and other buildings was done to achieve a lower property valuation. But Cook County Assessor based his $197 million assessment on the team’s contract purchase price. Paul Valade/, October 2023

He asked the board to compel Kaegi to assess the property at 10% of the fair market value — the common residential standard in Cook County. If the property is to be assessed at the 25% commercial rate at all, Tully argued, it should be for the time period before demolition began in May.

“The assessor and board of review do not assess property based on the purchase price when the sales price reflects future development value,” Tully said. “If it did, no large-scale project would ever be built, as property taxes would make it untenable.”

The attorneys continued negotiations over a possible settlement last Friday, but they decided to present their cases at the scheduled hearing Tuesday because “we don’t have a deal yet,” Metcalf said.

“We are one of, if not the largest, taxpayer out there,” Tully added. “We want to do something that's right for everyone.”

  The Chicago Bears and three school districts continue to debate the land value of the 326-acre Arlington Park property the NFL club purchased for a proposed $5 billion redevelopment. Demolition of the grandstand and other buildings started last May and concluded in November. Paul Valade/, May 2023
Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.