Public funds for a stadium on Arlington Park site? At least one state lawmaker open to it
Amid rumors that a professional sports franchise such as the Chicago Bears or Chicago White Sox could be interested in buying Arlington Park to build a new stadium, three state lawmakers who represent the area differ on whether they'd support public funding.
Democratic state Sen. Ann Gillespie and Republican state Rep. Thomas Morrison say they would not support a proposal in which public funds were used to build a stadium.
Democratic state Rep. Mark Walker, however, said he "probably would support" public funding for a stadium. All three represent portions of Arlington Heights, home of the 326-acre storied racetrack that is up for sale.
"With the current fiscal situation (in Illinois) and all of the needs of the people in this state, I would have a hard time advocating for money to go to a sports stadium," Gillespie said.
"I am not inclined to have taxpayers involved in financing that sort of plan," Morrison said.
Walker said he would not support a tax hike but that he could support public funds going to a stadium.
"I probably would support that given that we have done that for the Cubs, the Sox, the Bears," Walker said. "It entirely depends on what the deal is and how much benefit the communities get."
Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes said last week that options from a Bears stadium to keeping horse racing at Arlington Park are still on the table. Prospective developers have until June 15 to submit proposals to track owner Churchill Downs, which put the property up for sale in February.
"When the state is getting involved in things like that, it needs to be a very clear return that benefits the citizens of Illinois," Gillespie said. "If you look at the history of sports stadiums, I am not sure you see that track record."
A Bears spokesman has not confirmed or denied rumors the team might be interested in moving to Arlington Park. But he has told Crain's Chicago Business the team's priority is Soldier Field in Chicago.
Securing public funds often is a controversial element of building new stadiums. When the Atlanta Falcons built a new $2 billion stadium that opened in 2017, $700 million was kicked in by taxpayers. The newly opened Inglewood, California, home of the Los Angeles Rams and the Los Angeles Chargers will cost up to three times as much but is privately funded.
Gillespie said Illinois has bigger priorities and challenges to tackle before thinking about building a stadium for a billionaire sports franchise owner.
"We've got people that are hurting after the pandemic, we've got a bill backlog we need to pay, we've got a structural deficit issue with the way our finances are set up in this state," Gillespie said. "I think we've got a lot of other priorities to invest in the state."