'It's come to kind of a critical point': Arlington Heights hires lobbyists on Bears tax-break bill

As Springfield negotiations over Bears legislation begin to ramp up, Arlington Heights officials Monday hired lobbyists who could influence the cut of revenue the village gets from a proposed stadium redevelopment.

The $10,000-per-month retainer with Mac Strategies Group - as outlined in a consultant agreement approved 8-0 by the village board - gives village hall a seat at the increasingly crowded suburban stadium bargaining table involving other lobbyists, politicians and attorneys.

The parties are preparing for the fall veto session that begins Oct. 24, when legislation that would give the Bears a massive property tax break at their new 326-acre Arlington Park property will be up for debate.

"It's come to kind of a critical point in the process where we do need some assistance in Springfield," Mayor Tom Hayes said. "We just want to make sure that our interests are protected."

Village Manager Randy Recklaus said that he and his staff generally have good relationships with legislators in the Northwest suburbs, but he added "they must weigh the needs of many parties involved."

"Essentially, we're trying to make as many friends as we possibly can and make sure that as many people as possible understand what our goals and interests are," Recklaus said.

Arlington Heights officials have previously complained about their proposed cut of state revenues from taxes on sales, hotel, liquor and sports wagering at the new Bears development. Under legislation proposed by Des Plaines Democratic state Rep. Marty Moylan, Arlington Heights would get 30%, Palatine and Rolling Meadows would each get 14%, and Cook County, Buffalo Grove, Elk Grove Village, Mount Prospect, Prospect Heights, Schaumburg and Wheeling would each get 6%.

Hayes, Recklaus and Village Attorney Hart Passman reviewed proposals and conducted interviews in recent weeks with four different lobbying firms before recommending Mac. The firm is led by Ryan McLaughlin, a political and media operative who launched the business in 2008 and has counted Elk Grove Village and Rosemont among his municipal clients.

Former Palatine Republican state Sen. Matt Murphy joined the firm as a senior consultant in 2016. He represented a consortium of developers and investors tied to horse racing that sought to retain the racetrack and grandstand and redevelop around it, but that group lost out to the Bears' winning $197.2 million bid in 2021.

Half of the monthly retainer would be funneled to a subcontractor, GR Consulting, led by former Chicago Democratic state Rep. Art Turner Jr. and Larry Luster, a former communications staffer for the Illinois Senate Democrats and Black Caucus. The firm, founded in 2020, identifies as the only Black-owned and -operated government and public affairs firm in Illinois, according to its website.

Persuading legislators from Chicago to support the Bears' move - by tacking on a $3-per-ticket surcharge at a new Arlington Heights stadium to help pay off decades-old Soldier Field renovation debt, or other methods - is seen as crucial in getting the team's favored property tax break legislation across the goal line.

The three Arlington Heights-area school districts whose boundaries lie within the shuttered racetrack property - Palatine Township Elementary District 15, Northwest Suburban High School District 214 and Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 - hired a lobbyist of their own in February. The schools fear a substantial cut to their future property tax revenues under the so-called Payments in Lieu of Taxes financing mechanism being pushed by the Bears.

Separate but related to the long-term effects of the Bears bill - which could give the NFL franchise an assessment freeze of up to 40 years - it's the short-term negotiations between the schools and Bears over tax payments for the next two years that have prompted the Bears to consider other stadium sites.

"We're still working with Arlington Heights," Bears President and CEO Kevin Warren said during the team's preseason game radio broadcast Saturday night. "And there's a lot of other municipalities who have expressed interest, and we're starting to follow up and start having meetings there. And then you have the city of Chicago, which is where we've been for a while. So there's a lot of really positive energy. I have great respect for Mayor Hayes in Arlington Heights and also Mayor (Brandon) Johnson. He's done a great job and he's passionate. It's been good to have some really good positive dialogue, and I look forward to us continuing to move forward."

Hayes said late Monday he's continued discussions with Warren and other Bears brass, but his primary focus has been trying to get the Bears and school districts to come back to the bargaining table.

The Daily Herald reported in February on three clout-heavy lobbying firms the Bears have hired to advance their interests at the state capitol. That includes Freeborn & Peters led by Roger Bickel, a longtime associate of the Bears who helped secure the public financing deal for Soldier Field renovations more than two decades ago.

Arlington Heights' agreement with Mac Strategies formally begins Sept. 1 and expires a year later, though can be canceled with 30 days' notice.

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