With petitions in hand, conservative group's leader decries possible public handouts to the Bears
With a petition of more than 650 signatures in hand, Brian Costin came to this week's Arlington Heights village board meeting to oppose any suggestion of what he calls corporate welfare that could be part of the Chicago Bears' proposed redevelopment of Arlington Park.
Costin, the deputy state director of the conservative political advocacy group Americans for Prosperity, on Tuesday night turned in pages of signatures to Village Clerk Becky Hume in his bid for a village ordinance that would ban any public giveaways to any business -- including the Bears -- to operate in town.
Costin soon after returned to the boardroom podium as the six village trustees were about to approve a $118,000 contract to retain a consultant tasked with doing a fiscal economic impact and market analysis of the NFL franchise's proposed redevelopment.
As part of Hunden Strategic Partners' scope of work, the firm could help the village negotiate financing incentives, including state, county or other public financing; grants and partnerships; and other funding mechanisms, according to a memo written by the village staff.
"OK, are we ready to say that we're going to do a deal with the Chicago Bears because it's saying that this consultant is going to be negotiating that," Costin said. "This is extremely premature. ... We shouldn't be spending one dollar negotiating incentives when the taxpayers of Arlington Heights have said they don't want any money going there."
Costin's petition -- containing signatures of a little more than 1% of registered voters in town -- requires the board to consider his group's proposed ordinance at the next village board meeting Monday, Sept. 19, under an antiquated and rarely, if ever, used section of the municipal code. While not mentioning the Bears specifically, the legislation would prohibit the municipality from "offering or extending any financial incentive to any business or corporation to operate in the village."
While Costin and organizers started circulating petitions at the village's July 4 parade, he didn't submit them all to village hall until Tuesday night -- just hours after the Bears released an open letter vowing not to ask for tax dollars at least for the stadium portion of their project but left open the door to seeking governmental assistance for the rest of the massive redevelopment.
The 326-acre property is expected to include a multipurpose entertainment district, commercial and retail uses, and housing.
Village Manager Randy Recklaus said the village has not received any request for public money from the Bears "in any way, shape or form" and that it's premature to talk about incentives. But the hiring of a financial consultant came with a request for proposals process and a list of items as part of the prospective scope of work.
"Obviously, the village -- and we have a long track record of this -- we aren't going to even be discussing any type of incentive or anything like that unless the Bears or any other potential developer of the site can demonstrate that it won't happen without assistance," Recklaus said. "And also that any project-generated revenues are sufficient to cover any and all costs, including the additional costs that the village would be incurring. It's just premature."
At the meeting, Recklaus reiterated much of a previously issued written statement of Mayor Tom Hayes, who is out of town, that called the Americans for Prosperity ordinance "extreme" and said it would cripple the municipality's economic development efforts villagewide.
The proposed ordinance would curb the village's use of tax increment financing -- when property tax dollars at a certain level are funneled into development rather than to local governments -- as well as abatements, credits, loans, or tax and fee reductions.
If the measure is voted down by the board as soon as the next meeting, Costin's group could then gather signatures of 12% of registered voters -- about 6,500 -- to get 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.