Board of Review member says panel’s decision to increase Arlington Park property about ‘fairness’

Cook County Board of Review Commissioner George Cardenas is defending his vote that would increase the value of the former Arlington International Racecourse site by nearly $30 million.

If approved, the value would still be lower than what the Cook County assessor’s office set earlier this year.

In a news release issued Thursday, Cardenas said he voted along with Larry Rogers Jr. to increase the assessed value of the former horse-racing track now owned by the Chicago Bears to $124.7 million out of “fairness to the Bears and fairness to Arlington Heights taxing bodies.”

“Our staff, who are Certified Illinois Assessing Officers, met and came to a number that they thought was an accurate representation of value without interference from commissioners,” Cardenas said. “I told my staff to come up with a number that was fair and accurate and I think they did.”

Last year, the property was assessed at $95 million. The board of review’s third commissioner, Samantha Steele, recommended a value of $138 million at a meeting earlier in the week.

With a value of $124.7 million, the Bears would be on the hook for a property tax bill of about $10 million for the 326-acre site that could be the football team’s future home.

In a statement issued Thursday, the Bears expressed disappointment in the assessment.

“The original assessment of the Arlington Park property was arbitrary, not uniform, and set a dangerous precedent for other major real estate developments in the Chicagoland area,” the statement said. “As we review the Board of Review’s recently issued decision, we appreciate their acknowledgment of the initial excessive valuation, but are disappointed the decision did not recognize the totality of the facts presented, including other large scale property sales in north suburban Cook County assessed at less than half of their purchase price. Our land value is still not uniform with other large tracts of land in the area. From day one, we have operated in good faith — offering to pay more in taxes on vacant land with no commercial usage than the site generated with a fully operational racetrack — but our offers have been rejected. While we review the effects of this decision, we will continue to work with local municipalities to select the best location for the future stadium of the Chicago Bears that will bring a transformative opportunity to our region—boosting the economy, creating jobs, and generating millions in tax revenue.”

The Bears and a trio of school districts have been at odds over the value of the property since the NFL franchise purchased Arlington Park nearly a year ago for $197.2 million.

The Bears’ appraisal of the property came in at $60 million, while the appraisal from the school districts came in at $160.

The initial assessment from Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi had the property’s value at $192 million.

The board of review is expected to finalize its decision next week. However, the Bears can still appeal to a state board or file a complaint in circuit court.

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