No public money for Bears stadium? Conservative group wants village to ban subsidies for businesses

A conservative political advocacy group — with its state chapter office in Rolling Meadows in the shadow of Arlington Park — is gathering signatures to petition the Arlington Heights village board to pass an anti-corporate welfare ordinance banning any public giveaways for the proposed Chicago Bears redevelopment at the racetrack.

Americans for Prosperity is trying to collect 1,000 signatures of registered Arlington Heights voters for its proposed ordinance. While not mentioning the NFL franchise specifically, it would prohibit the municipality from “offering or extending any financial incentive to any business or corporation to operate in the village.”

Under an antiquated and rarely, if ever, used section of the municipal code, the petition of at least 1% of registered voters would require the village board to formally consider the ordinance.

Brian Costin, deputy state director of Americans for Prosperity, said the group has about half of the signatures it needs, after it started circulating petitions on July 4. He expects to submit them to the village clerk by the end of the month.

“The Bears can afford to build a state-of-the-art stadium without selling a single jersey, ticket or hot dog,” Costin told the village board Monday night. “Any taxpayer subsidy or special tax break would be padding the profits of billionaires at the expense of other businesses and residents in Arlington Heights.”

Mayor Tom Hayes has left open the door to public subsidies for the Bears stadium redevelopment. After the team's tentative $197.2 million purchase deal for the Arlington Park land was announced last fall, Hayes said taxpayer dollars could be used as “a last resort.”

The proposed ordinance would curb the village's use of tax increment financing, abatements, credits, loans, or tax and fee reductions.

Hayes, who saw the draft ordinance a few weeks ago, said it would take away “a very important tool in our economic tool box.”

“We've utilized (TIF districts) on a limited basis with the consultation of not only the other taxing bodies, but with our residents. This is something that we don't do willy-nilly,” Hayes said. “And we've used it very successfully. All you have to do is go look at our downtown and other shopping centers in town.”

A TIF district freezes property taxes going to local governments at a certain level, then funnels taxes above that into redevelopment.

Having already received a chilly reception from the mayor and trustees who are eager to entertain the prospect of a Bears move to town, if the measure is voted down, the advocacy group then could gather another 11,000 signatures, leading to a binding referendum at the ballot box.

There are a lot of caveats, though, that would allow the board to reject the proposal if the village attorney finds it “is in conflict with any Constitutional provision, existing statutes or ordinances of other preempting jurisdictions,” according to the municipal code.

And any ordinance adopted through the petition mechanism can be repealed by the board or another ballot initiative, the code states.

Costin, a one-time Schaumburg mayoral candidate, said his group doesn't have any formal opposition to the Bears' building a new stadium on the 326-acre Arlington Heights property; in fact, he thinks it would be a great location. He just doesn't want the suburban relocation to come with any local or state handouts.

Costin said he thinks the team and NFL can afford to fund the cost of a new stadium itself, citing an annual report released Monday by Sportico that put the Bears as the sixth most valuable franchise in the league at $5 billion. He also noted the NFL signed an 11-year, $110 billion media rights deal, and it regularly helps pay for new stadium construction.

“It's the most profitable sports entertainment business in the world, and they have more than enough money to build these stadiums on their own if they wanted to,” Costin said.

On the state level, a number of leaders from both parties have said they have no appetite for state financing for a suburban stadium. That includes Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who said after the Bears land purchase was announced that he thought the team should stay in Chicago and that public money to keep them there or move them to Arlington is “not something that we're looking at.”

A closing on the 326-acre property is scheduled for early 2023.

Brian Costin
Tom Hayes
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