'Important step in the process': Arlington Heights board OKs predevelopment deal with Bears

It may still only be early in the first quarter, but the Chicago Bears Monday night started to advance the ball downfield to a potential new home in Arlington Heights.

The village board unanimously agreed to a so-called predevelopment agreement with the NFL franchise that suggests future zoning changes and public financing that could get the club's $5 billion conceptual redevelopment to the goal line.

The board also amended its overlay zoning district for the 326-acre Arlington Park property so that a sports wagering facility can be a possible future use as part of the team's plans there.

"This is a very exciting time for the village of Arlington Heights, and I hope for the Chicago Bears football team as well and the whole Northwest suburban region. But it's a very preliminary step," said Mayor Tom Hayes. "We've got a long, long way to go, but this is a very important and necessary step to move this redevelopment forward."

Added Cliff Stein, the Bears' general counsel: "This is not a binding obligation of either party. It is a good faith agreement to work together to cooperate for the exploration of the redevelopment of this property. But this is a very important step in the process."

The nine-page agreement, which has 34 pages of attached exhibits containing the team's master plan, was negotiated in recent months by lawyers and top officials for the Bears organization and village, who are quick to caution that nothing is a done deal.

But the document outlines for the first time real possibilities about things to come during the months- and yearslong approval process ahead of any first snap at a new suburban football stadium.

Perhaps chief among the section headings is the one calling for an "exploration of public-private partnerships," where the Bears say they will ask the village and other governmental entities for public financing for a portion of infrastructure costs at its sprawling mixed-use district - though not for the stadium construction cost itself.

That assistance could include tax-increment financing steering property tax money from schools and other local governments into the project, special service areas in which property owners within the areas pay a special tax, special assessments, the creation of a business district with an extra sales tax in the redevelopment area, and a parking tax, according to the document.

Brian Costin, deputy state director of Americans for Prosperity Illinois, who tried to get his anti-corporate welfare ordinance passed in Arlington Heights, was back at the village boardroom Monday night to criticize the notion of giving the Bears any public money.

"The NFL and the Chicago Bears should play by the same rules as every other business in Arlington Heights," said Costin, whose conservative advocacy group's state office is in nearby Rolling Meadows. "This is a road map for roughing the taxpayers. The village of Arlington Heights should be explaining to the Bears they are only interested in developers who agree to play by the same rules as everyone else and don't try to manipulate the law in their exclusive favor."

Village Manager Randy Recklaus reiterated Monday night that the village will consider using project-generated revenues to support parts of the redevelopment only if it's determined the project won't be feasible otherwise. And the project must generate enough new tax revenues to cover all village expenses and still provide a net financial benefit to the community above and beyond those costs, he said.

The agreement outlines other steps in the approval process, such as changes to the village comprehensive plan and zoning code, including creation of a new specialty zoning district for the property instead of the current business/automotive-type district. After those changes, the Bears may file applications for the necessary zoning approvals from the village board.

Approval of the document Monday - in which the Bears have some level of assurances - was seen as a necessary step before the team goes into its closing with Churchill Downs Inc. for the pending $197.2 million purchase in early 2023.

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