Arlington Heights mayor to residents: Taxpayer dollars to Bears 'a last resort'
Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes on Monday tried to reassure residents skeptical about the Chicago Bears' possible move to town that it's not a done deal, he hasn't committed taxpayer funds to it, and the public will be involved in what's expected to be an extensive approval process.
"There will be many opportunities over the next year, year and a half, and perhaps two years for our residents and other interested parties to weigh in," Hayes said Monday night during a village board meeting. "No decisions have been made. We don't have any details of the Bears' plan at this point, and so we're waiting with bated breath as well to find out exactly what they're envisioning for this property."
It was the first public meeting for the mayor and trustees since news broke late last Tuesday that the Bears signed a $197.2 million purchase agreement with Churchill Downs Inc. to buy the 326-acre Arlington Park racetrack property at Euclid Road and Wilke Avenue.
It also marked the first formal opportunity for residents to address the elected panel about the possible move of Chicago's NFL franchise to their suburban backyards. Two residents addressed the board during the public comment portion of the meeting Monday night, though the mayor confirmed the Bears were also the talk of the town at last weekend's inaugural Harmony Fest downtown block party.
Tom Loch, an Arlington Heights resident since 1962, told the village board that as a Bears fan, he's excited about the team's possible move. But as a homeowner who lives a mile away from the racetrack, he says he has mixed emotions.
On Arlington Park's busiest days -- the Arlington Million and Fourth of July weekend fireworks -- traffic control measures made the uptick in vehicles "workable," Loch said.
But the current infrastructure won't be able to process crowds five or six times larger, he said.
"I am here tonight to encourage the Arlington Heights village board to make sure the Bears become another good neighbor in our community, and fight the temptation to get too caught up in the current hype so that we end up selling off too much of our reputational and quality-of-life equity, as well as the equity of the property value of those directly affected by their close proximity to the Arlington Park property," Loch said. "I still say, 'Go Bears,' but way more importantly, I say, 'Go Arlington Heights.' Let this be a mutual opportunity, not a predatory experience."
Keith Moens, a regular attendee of village board meetings, implored Hayes and the board not to give the Bears village tax dollars to help fund a stadium redevelopment.
"If they tell us they need a subsidy from us or else the deal will fall through, in my opinion this is just pure bullying and looking for some gravy in the deal," Moens said. "Because if it's up to our little subsidy to make or break the deal, I don't think they can make it here in the first place."
"The Bears have plenty of ways to pay for their own new stadium without the help from our little piggy bank here," Moens continued. "I think we can get the benefit of the Bears moving here without the cost."
Hayes said he hasn't committed any funds, and the Bears haven't asked for any. The mayor did mention during the meeting and in interviews with the Daily Herald and WTTW-TV that the village does provide tax incentives to businesses.
"I said it was a last resort. It's yet to be determined," Hayes said after the meeting. "We have tax incentives we use to attract or retain businesses. That's in our arsenal. I don't know if we're going to use it. They're a last resort."
"I don't know how they're going to do it," Hayes said about a stadium redevelopment expected to cost billions of dollars. "They haven't asked us for any money at this point. And we haven't committed any money."