'Strictly business': Bears don't seek handout but tax 'fairness,' Warren says in Arlington Heights
Amid tense negotiations over tax issues in Arlington Heights and flirtations with other municipalities that could host a new stadium, Chicago Bears President and CEO Kevin Warren said Monday the NFL franchise isn't looking to taxpayers for any "handouts" but wants "certainty and fairness."
Warren, at the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre on Monday evening for a community meeting hosted by a pro-Bears business group, also called representatives of three local school districts to come back to the table and hash out an agreement over property tax assessments and payments at the 326-acre Arlington Park property the Bears now own.
"We do need a new home for the Chicago Bears. We have to figure out if Arlington Heights is legitimately a viable option or is it not," Warren said. "This has nothing to do with personal feelings. This is strictly business. And I just want to make sure that we're all on the same page and figure out if this is something that will work."
The Bears and three school districts -- Palatine Township Elementary District 15, Northwest Suburban High School District 214 and Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211, whose boundaries cover portions of the sprawling shuttered racetrack property -- are far apart on what the tax payment should be the next two years.
The Bears' last offer was $4.3 million, while the schools suggested $7.9 million. Though it's being challenged, Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi's reassessment of the property would increase the annual property tax bill from $2.8 million to $16.2 million.
Warren hasn't met with the school superintendents since April 18, but amid the stalled negotiations, he has had meetings with the mayors of Chicago and Naperville. He said officials from "multiple" other towns continue to send letters, like Waukegan, or call, as another municipality did Monday afternoon as he was driving to the event in Arlington Heights.
But he denied that public revelation about other towns is a negotiating tactic.
"We were singularly focused on this development at Arlington Park," Warren recalled from his introductory news conference in January. "Since that time has come and passed and we've had a stalemate and a lack of communication -- and it sounds like it's a little bit more convoluted at this point in time than I thought it would be -- well, then we're in a position to start exploring other places and opportunities. As any good business person would do, that's what you need to do."
With an eye toward property tax savings, demolition crews are now five weeks into work tearing down buildings at the shuttered racetrack. Economic and traffic impact studies -- promised by the Bears and sought by legislators and officials in Arlington Heights, Palatine and Rolling Meadows -- would come "once we have clarity that we can work together, that this is a place that we can build a stadium," Warren said.
Warren was interviewed on the theater stage by attorney Ernie Rose, who is on the six-member steering committee of Touchdown Arlington, a coalition of Arlington Heights business owners who support the Bears' move to town. Warren didn't take questions from the assembled media before or after the hourlong event, but Rose said his questions to Warren were among the 300 or so written queries of those who registered for the event.
The crowd, some clad in blue and orange, was a mix of Bears fans, residents and business owners. They applauded when Rose asked, "Who wants the Bears to come to Arlington Heights?" and later when Warren said the proposed stadium would be enclosed.
He urged them to contact their school board members and legislators. As patrons filed into the Metropolis lobby, members of Rolling Meadows High School's freshman football team handed out Touchdown Arlington flyers with that contact information.