Bears file paperwork to begin demolition of Arlington Park grandstand and other structures

The Chicago Bears filed paperwork at Arlington Heights village hall Wednesday to begin the demolition of structures at Arlington Park, team officials confirmed.

That includes the stately six-story grandstand with cantilevered roof built by Dick Duchossois after the 1985 fire that devastated the old building.

But the wrecking ball likely will meet the outside of the grandstand and old backstretch horse barns last, with work first set to begin on internal demolition, officials said.

The teardown could begin in just days or weeks, as soon as the village's building and life safety department approves the permit.

Despite the expected presence of construction equipment on the 326-acre site, Bears officials reiterated they're not yet moving forward with their full-scale redevelopment vision - from shuttered racetrack site into a domed stadium and mixed-use entertainment complex.

The announcement is on the heels of Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi's reassessment of the land's value and the Bears' appeal of that determination to the Cook County Board of Review. Clearing the site of buildings could help the NFL franchise's case before the three-member elected panel, expected to consider the appeal in June.

Kaegi earlier this year hiked the property value from $33.5 million to $197 million - which is just below the $197.2 million the club paid Churchill Downs Inc. for the old racetrack property. That has implications for how much more property tax - at least fivefold - the Bears would have to pay.

Some of the factors Kaegi's office cited in its examination was that the Bears haven't applied for vacancy status on the site. Even though the last horse race was in 2021, the track has the capacity to be fully functional again, the assessor's office said.

Ed Sullivan, a former Republican state representative from Mundelein and former Fremont Township assessor, told the Daily Herald in March that it only makes financial sense that the Bears would tear down the grandstand because of the tax implications.

At the same time, the club is seeking a massive property tax break from state legislators to help fund its potential $5 billion redevelopment.

Properties that sit vacant and aren't producing income can have a reduced assessed value, and that value can be reduced even more "by just bringing it to vacant land," said Sullivan, now a Springfield lobbyist, who was the elected Fremont Township assessor from 1993 to 2017 and the 51st state House District rep from 2003 to 2017.

Clearing the property of structures also would be a key consideration amid the Bears' proposed Payments in Lieu of Taxes financing mechanism that would help bankroll the redevelopment.

Under the proposal, the assessed value of the property would be frozen a year before the Illinois Department of Revenue certified the so-called "mega project." Then, instead of paying more taxes as the property grows in value, the Bears would make annual payments to schools and other local taxing bodies that are negotiated with village officials.

But so far, legislation that would enact such a system has faced a chilly reception at the state Capitol.

Why tax expert, former state rep says Arlington grandstand's days could be numbered

Pro-Bears coalition forms in Arlington Heights to 'hear from the horse's mouth,' make move happen

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