‘Fair and sensible’: Arlington Heights proposes tax deal as Bears turn focus away from racetrack site

Acting as intermediary — and perhaps hoping to get the Chicago Bears to redirect their focus to redeveloping the vacant Arlington Park racetrack — Arlington Heights village officials Monday unveiled their proposed settlement to a long-running property tax dispute between the NFL franchise and three area school districts.

The deal would have the Bears paying $6.3 million in property taxes for the 2023 tax year, $3.6 million for 2024, and negotiated annual increases of 3% to 10% the following three years based upon market conditions, Village Manager Randy Recklaus said during a village board meeting Monday night.

Under a Cook County Board of Review ruling late last month, the Bears would have to pay nearly $9 million in 2023 taxes, Recklaus said.

By comparison, he presented figures that show the 2021 tax bill was $8.8 million at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California, $6.1 million at the United Center in Chicago and $2.7 million at Wrigley Field.

The last year the racetrack was in operation in 2021, then-owner Churchill Downs paid $3 million. Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi’s reassessment — which was eventually lowered by the board of review — would have stuck the Bears with a $16 million tax bill.

“This is just a proposal that we made to the Chicago Bears and the school districts, and we encourage both parties to continue discussions on this issue and offer further alternative solutions to these issues,” Recklaus said. “We believe this proposal is fair and sensible, but the village cannot impose this solution unilaterally — the Bears and the districts will need to agree.”

Arlington Heights Village Manager Randy Recklaus, pictured at Arlington Park in 2021, announced a proposed property tax settlement on Monday that would cut the amount of taxes the Chicago Bears would have to pay for the former racetrack site they now own. Daily Herald File Photo, 2021

The village’s proposal is based on a property value of $124.7 million — the same number used by the board of review. But for 2023, the site would be assessed at 25% of the fair market value — the common commercial standard in Cook County — for half the year, and at the 10% vacancy rate the other half.

Recklaus said he doesn’t think the review board sufficiently considered the property’s status: an unlicensed racetrack facility with no ability to generate revenue, and in various stages of demolition.

In 2024, village officials propose assessing the property at 10% now that it’s vacant.

Village records released to the Daily Herald Monday show Recklaus made the pitch to the Bears, Northwest Suburban High School District 214, Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 and Palatine Township Elementary District 15 on Feb. 27, just days after the board of review decision.

The village manager’s public statement on the behind-closed-doors discussions comes a week after the Bears announced that they’ve shifted their focus for the site of a new domed stadium away from the 326-acre Arlington Park site to the parking lot on the south side of Soldier Field.

Recklaus reiterated Monday he has spoken to Bears representatives, who confirmed their interest in the Arlington Park property as a potential stadium site “has not changed,” despite their current organizational focus on sites in Chicago.

He’s requested a meeting with Bears President and CEO Kevin Warren, District 214 Superintendent Scott Rowe, District 211 Superintendent Lisa Small and District 15 Superintendent Laurie Heinz to discuss the village’s proposed tax settlement, but said they haven’t formally responded to the offer. He added he has spoken to officials from both sides since the offer was made; discussions over a proposed memorandum of understanding have been ongoing for months.

  Northwest Suburban High School District 214 Superintendent Scott Rowe, from left, Palatine Township Elementary District 15 Superintendent Laurie Heinz and Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 Superintendent Lisa Small, pictured at a meeting with the Daily Herald Editorial Board in February, have been in negotiations with the Chicago Bears and Arlington Heights officials over a memorandum of understanding aimed at resolving a monthslong property tax dispute. Paul Valade/

“By resolving this last (property tax) issue, we believe we can complete our discussion on the broader issues in the (memorandum) and bring them into the public view for discussion sooner rather than later, and then get on with the robust exploration of the redevelopment of the site, including traffic and economic studies,” Recklaus said.

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