Arlington Heights voters in poll oppose tax dollars for Bears, but mayor calls questions slanted
An overwhelming majority of Arlington Heights residents want the Chicago Bears to build a new stadium at Arlington Park, but more than two-thirds of them don't want taxpayer money to help pay for it, according to the findings of a new poll.
Commissioned by the political advocacy group Americans for Prosperity Illinois, the poll found that 72% of residents would approve of a stadium on the 326-acre former racetrack property.
But when asked whether they would support an offer of taxpayer dollars by the village of Arlington Heights to make it happen, 68% said they would not.
ARW Strategies questioned 300 registered voters for the poll, which has a margin of error of +/- 5.6%.
Americans for Prosperity Illinois is the same group that is gathering signatures to petition the village board to pass an ordinance that would ban any public money going to a Bears stadium or any other "corporate welfare."
The poll found that 55% of voters support that proposal, with 30% opposing it and 15% unsure. And 74%, regardless of their opinion on the proposal, think voters should decide it.
"(Arlington Heights) Mayor (Tom) Hayes called AFP-IL's Anti-Corporate Welfare Ordinance 'extreme,' but we don't think a majority of Arlington Heights residents are extremists for wanting to end corporate welfare programs," Brian Costin, the organization's deputy state director, said in a statement Tuesday. "This polling shows Mayor Hayes' views on corporate welfare are out of touch with large majorities of Arlington Heights voters."
Hayes said Tuesday he took the poll results "with a grain of salt" because of the way the questions were phrased.
"They're slanted in a direction in the way that the poll writer wants them to go to support their position," Hayes said. "If someone came to me and said, 'Do you want the Bears to come, but you have to shoulder a very heavy financial burden yourself as an individual homeowner,' I wouldn't vote for that, either."
Hayes has said he would consider use of taxpayer dollars for a Bears stadium redevelopment only as a "last resort."
"As you know, the Bears have not asked us for anything. We've not promised anything. It's just too premature to go down that road," Hayes said. "We're going to do the best we can to make sure that this is a win-win for both the Bears and for our community."
The poll also asked a series of questions about economic strategies in the village and the impact of a potential NFL stadium in town.
Respondents were split on traffic impacts from the proposal, with 47.8% said they are concerned about it and 47.5% saying they are not.
Asked about the potential impact on public services like police and fire, 37% said they are concerned and 55% said they are not.
Regarding the use of tax increment financing districts to attract developers, 54% of voters believe the village should eliminate TIF districts, while 29% want them to remain and 17% are unsure. TIF districts work by freezing property tax distributions to local governments like schools and park districts at their current levels for a defined period of time, usually 23 years, with any increase in tax revenue created by new development funneled to a village-controlled fund to pay for improvements within the district.
Costin said his group supports a Bears move to the suburbs, but only if it doesn't include a handout from taxpayers.
"Arlington Heights residents strongly agree and through this poll are sending a message to the village to end the continued flirtation with corporate welfare programs," he said.
But Hayes argued Costin's proposed ordinance - which doesn't mention the Bears by name - would cripple the village's economic development efforts more broadly. The legislation would prohibit the municipality from "offering or extending any financial incentive to any business or corporation to operate in the village."
"Corporate welfare sounds bad obviously, but when you look at it in terms of financial incentives to attract and retain either new or existing businesses that are going to benefit the community of Arlington Heights, that puts it in a completely different light," Hayes said. "To enact an ordinance that would completely prohibit any kind of financial incentive would put us in such a competitive disadvantage. We just can't support it."
The Bears have been exploring the potential for a new state-of-the-art stadium on the Arlington Park property since last fall, when the team announced it had reached a tentative $197.2 million deal to buy the site from owner Churchill Downs. While awaiting a closing on the sale - expected early next year - the Bears have hired architects, land planners and other consultants to draw up plans for the site while, thus far, rebuffing overtures from Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot aimed at keeping the team at Soldier Field.