Could Bears stadium benefit Arlington Heights taxpayers? Mayor says yes

Facing some constituent concerns - if not outright opposition - to the Chicago Bears' potential move to Arlington Heights, Mayor Tom Hayes is touting what the relocation could mean for local property values and taxes.

The three-term mayor said the prospect of a Bears stadium and a surrounding entertainment district at Arlington Park could be a boon for the village and individual homeowners. He's springing hopes on a full-scale redevelopment of the 326-acre property that would generate far more revenue for local coffers than the $1 million the track provided annually.

"We envision that it's going to do great things for their property values because people are going to see Arlington Heights as a destination not just to go to a Bears game but to raise their family, as they always have," Hayes said. "I think this is only going to improve our reputation and quality of life."

Increasing property values could lead to a hike in taxes, but Hayes said he believes the redevelopment would at least allow the village to keep its portion of the tax bill level. The village represents 12% of an average homeowner's property tax bill, while schools encompass two-thirds.

"I can't say we're going to give money back. I don't know what's going to happen yet. But it'll give us a better chance of keeping a zero percent property tax levy (increase) on an annual basis," he said.

The mayor's latest comments came after a village board meeting Monday night, when Hayes - responding to two residents who came to the podium - said local tax dollars would be used only as "a last resort" to secure a Bears stadium deal.

In an interview after the meeting, Hayes noted other sources of funding - besides state and local public financing - have been used to pay for NFL stadiums in recent years. That includes loans from the NFL, the sale of personal seat licenses to season ticket holders, and revenues from subsequent development around the stadium, on top of whatever dollars team owners provide.

"I don't know how they're going to do it," Hayes said about a Bears stadium project that could cost billions of dollars. "They haven't asked us for any money at this point. And we haven't committed any money."

On questions of traffic and congestion, Hayes said the village would work with other governmental entities - including Rolling Meadows, Palatine, the Illinois Department of Transportation, Cook County and Union Pacific - about how to move some 80,000 visitors in and out of the stadium complex for at least eight Bears home games a year.

"(There are) lots of issues to consider, and a long, long way to go, but I think we can address all of these issues in a way that will address everybody's concerns," he said.

Hayes said he hasn't seen specific redevelopment plans from the Bears; in fact, he said he doesn't think the team has developed such plans. But he believes the team at least has a vision for the expansive site that would mirror what other NFL teams have done: a stadium complemented by amenities such as restaurants, hotels and other entertainment features that would keep fans there for more than a three-hour game.

Hayes and the village staff also haven't yet sat down with Bears management to discuss specifics, since the team's bombshell announcement last Wednesday that it inked a $197.2 million purchase agreement to buy Arlington Park from Churchill Downs Inc. But the mayor said a face-to-face meeting is planned relatively soon, where he hopes to learn more details about the team's proposal and where village leaders will share information about their zoning and approval process.

At the same time, they're planning to bring on extra help to assist with that process by hiring consultants in different areas.

"Inspecting an 80,000-seat stadium - our guys don't do that everyday," Hayes said. "We want to make sure that everything is to code and it's safe."

Tuesday marked the last day for horse trainers and owners to clear out their barns on the Arlington Park backstretch and take their thoroughbreds to Hawthorne Race Course or somewhere else. Village officials are now talking with track management about maintenance, upkeep and safety of the property.

Because of the lengthy approval process - and the fact that a closing isn't expected until late 2022 or early 2023 - Hayes said he wouldn't expect construction activity to take place anytime soon, including a teardown of the stately six-story grandstand.

"You won't see any bulldozers there (Wednesday)," he said. "I couldn't even speculate what the future of the grandstand is. Of course that depends on if the Bears are the successful bidder and where the stadium would go."

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