'Certainly possible' Arlington Heights might end up rejecting Bears' plans, mayor says

Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes said Monday that while a proposed agreement between the Chicago Bears and village would aid the team in closing on its pending $197.2 million purchase of Arlington Park, it's "certainly possible" that the village might end up rejecting the club's final redevelopment plans.

Hayes' comments, and similar remarks from Village Manager Randy Recklaus, came during a village board meeting where some residents raised questions about the draft nine-page predevelopment agreement and conceptual plans presented by the NFL franchise so far.

The agreement, which suggests future zoning changes and public financing that could make the Bears' $5 billion redevelopment vision for the 326-acre property a reality, was discussed publicly for the first time last week and is pending a final vote by the village board Nov. 7. Most board members have made positive remarks about the pact.

But during the public comment portion of Monday night's meeting, resident Roberta Fisher wondered what recourse she and other residents would have after that vote is taken.

"If they vote on it to come here, what else can the residents do?" she asked Hayes. "Our taxpayer money is involved, and our neighborhoods."

Hayes said the pending agreement serves to assist the Bears in closing on its purchase with property owner Churchill Downs Inc., but that at some point in the future, "we'll be making other decisions." He reiterated that the public will have an opportunity to provide input before any votes are taken.

"The village has quite a bit of say in terms of what will go there ultimately and how it will be built and how it will impact our community," Hayes said. "We've got a long way to go."

Fisher asked if there were any possibility the village board would reject the Bears' proposal.

"It's certainly possible," Hayes replied.

At last week's board meeting, one trustee - Jim Tinaglia, an architect by trade - expressed his outright opposition to the plans that have been presented so far, while others on the elected panel raised concerns about traffic, parking and the effect on the village's bustling downtown.

Besides a stadium district at the northwest corner of the sprawling site, a conceptual site plan shows a mixed-use transit-oriented district on the other two-thirds that would encompass restaurants, stores, offices, hotels, homes and more.

Peg Lane, who lives in a condominium three blocks from the shuttered racetrack, wondered whether football fans would be parking in her complex's lot.

Hayes reiterated that the plans are very premature and don't come with a lot of detail.

"A lot of these questions will be answered down the road - maybe next year, maybe longer than that," Hayes said. "I know there will be designated parking spaces, but there will also be a lot of entrepreneurs perhaps in the neighborhood. Perhaps the owner of your condo building might want to get involved in something like that."

Resident Melissa Cayer and Brian Costin, deputy state director of Americans for Prosperity Illinois, repeated their opposition to the use of taxpayer-funded incentives for the Bears redevelopment - namely tax increment financing, which would steer property taxes away from schools and other taxing bodies to pay for some project costs.

Recklaus said the village isn't suggesting or approving tax increment financing or other incentives as part of the agreement, but the document does indicate "the types of incentives that might be pursued and the conditions under which the village would discuss such things."

"This predevelopment agreement does not provide a formal approval of the preliminary concept," Recklaus added. "It may not be even the concept that is formally proposed by the Chicago Bears when we're all said and done. We don't know because we're just in the very early stages."

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