‘Least-hairy option’: School leaders believe Arlington Heights Bears stadium still in play

Three Arlington Heights-area school district superintendents say they’re being mischaracterized for potentially quashing the deal to bring the Bears to town, and questioned whether the team’s shift back to the Chicago lakefront is really about taxes in the suburbs.

They also believe the team’s previously-proposed redevelopment of Arlington Park is still a strong possibility.

The superintendents of Northwest Suburban High School District 214, Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 and Palatine Township Elementary District 15 spoke about their closed-door meetings with Bears President and CEO Kevin Warren that took place in January in the lead-up to the Cook County Board of Review’s ruling on the 326-acre former racetrack’s property value.

The interview followed a Daily Herald Freedom of Information Act request of the three districts for email communications about the Bears, and the superintendents’ meeting calendars for the past year.

In a Dec. 14 email, District 214 Superintendent Scott Rowe requested a meeting with Warren “to clear up any misconceptions about the property tax issue” after months of haggling by attorneys for both sides.

That led to a Jan. 18 meeting at Halas Hall in Lake Forest with Warren, Rowe, District 211 Superintendent Lisa Small and District 15 Superintendent Laurie Heinz.

  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 questioned whether the Bears’ renewed interest in the Chicago lakefront really has to do with the tax dispute in Arlington Heights. Paul Valade/

“He said what he learned in his stadium building days in Minneapolis was that he has to have a backup plan, and he is going to keep both cities in play until the least-hairy option emerges for the direction to go with the stadium,” Rowe said. “His plan all along is to keep both places in play. … We actually think Arlington Heights is very much still in play. He's currently testing out Chicago.”

Six days after that meeting, which Rowe described as positive, the same major players met on Microsoft Teams for a property tax settlement discussion, records show.

Two days later, they met again in person — this time at District 214’s offices and with tax attorneys for both sides — to exchange settlement offers for the value of the Bears’ property in Arlington Heights.

Rowe said the schools’ “best and final” offer at that Jan. 26 meeting was above $100 million, but below the $124.7 million the board of review determined the following week.

The Bears rejected the offer, the superintendents say.

“We didn't battle with them. We negotiated with them,” Small said. “We gave them options. … We gave them deals that they didn’t take.”

  The value of the 326-acre Arlington Park property was set at $124.7 million, for which the Bears are on the hook for $8.9 million in taxes. Paul Valade/

A Bears spokesman wouldn’t comment on the nature of the internal discussions about property taxes but did confirm the club has formally appealed the board of review’s decision to the state’s property tax appeal board.

If the first panel’s decision stands — and if both sides still can’t arrive at a settlement — the Bears would have to pay $8.9 million on their 2023 tax bill.

After closing on its $197.2 million purchase of the shuttered racetrack in February 2023, the Bears announced in July that Arlington Park was no longer its “singular focus” — citing the property’s higher reassessment — and began entertaining offers from other municipalities, including Naperville, Aurora, Waukegan and Chicago.

Last month, the Bears announced their focus is now on trying to develop a domed stadium on the south parking lot of Soldier Field.

Top team brass has long said they were looking for “property tax certainty” ― as Chairman George McCaskey put it in September 2022 ― as well as public subsidies, to make their $5 billion Arlington Park redevelopment vision a reality. They also said buying the property didn’t necessarily mean they were going to develop it.

But Rowe believes the organizational shift in focus from the suburbs back to the city has to do with the change in leadership of team president — from Ted Phillips, who inked the initial deal to buy Arlington Park before retiring, to Warren, who for months has spoken of his affinity for the Chicago lakefront.

  Chicago Bears President and CEO Kevin Warren took the helm of the organization in April 2023. Paul Valade/

“It raises the question: Is it really about taxes?” Rowe said. “Because if it was about taxes, we’re talking about a multibillion-dollar organization, looking to build a multibillion-dollar property and wanting multibillion-dollar tax incentives, and they won’t commit on less than $2 million of a difference. It doesn’t make logical sense that it’s really about taxes.”

“It's not about us being in the way,” Rowe continued. “It’s about what the CEO of your organization wants as the new guy into this equation.”

The superintendents say they haven’t spoken to Warren since the board of review decision.

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.