Cook County panel turns down Bears’ tax appeal, but decision isn’t final

The Cook County Board of Review on Wednesday endorsed county Assessor Fritz Kaegi’s valuation of the Arlington Park property, which could stick the Chicago Bears with a tax bill millions above what they had hoped.

But the unanimous decision of the three-member elected panel isn’t final; the board is giving the Bears and three Arlington Heights-area school districts until Saturday to return to the negotiating table to hash out an agreement that could arrive at a lower figure.

For now, the board “has determined that a change in (the) present assessment is not warranted,” according to a one-page letter sent to the Bears’ property tax attorneys.

That would put the value of the 326-acre property at $192 million, for which the Bears would have to pay about $15 million in taxes.

Commissioner Samantha Steele, chairwoman of the review board, said tax appeals attorneys for both sides presented valid arguments during a hearing Jan. 30.

But she said that the sprawling site — which the Bears purchased for $197.2 million in a deal that closed a year ago Thursday — is a “special use” property.

Cook County Board of Review Commissioner Samantha Steele

“There are no other properties in the county or in metropolitan areas that have 326 acres,” Steele said. “So it is a unique parcel that has many varied highest and best uses.”

With an eye toward achieving a lower valuation for vacant land, the Bears started tearing down the old racetrack’s six-story grandstand and other buildings in May. But that work wasn’t completed until the end of the year, Steele noted.

So the board decided to stick with Kaegi’s initial decision in assessing the property at 25% of the fair market value for commercial land, versus the lower 10% rate that county ordinance allows for vacant land.

“It wasn’t vacant for the majority of the year. It wasn’t vacant until December, so that needs to be taken into account,” Steele said. “As a taxpayer I would come back and appeal for 2024 because it is vacant at that point.”

Officials for the Bears and the three school districts — Northwest Suburban High School District 214, Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 and Palatine Township Elementary District 15 — declined to comment Wednesday.

The two sides had presented appraisals that were $100 million apart: the schools put the value of the property at $160 million, while the Bears suggested the land’s value is $60 million.

If the parties arrive at a settlement by Saturday, the board of review will re-review the case by the middle of next week. The panel traditionally approves settlements agreed to by property owners and taxing bodies.

The Bears also could go to the state’s property tax appeal board within 30 days, or file a complaint in county circuit court.

The board of review takes up about 300,000 property tax appeals every year — but none this prominent.

“This property is not treated any differently in our office,” Steele said. “My concern as a commissioner is to ensure that the assessments are as accurate as possible. It could be the Bears or it could be your mom’s house.”

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