Jim O'Donnell: Are the Bears and Arlington Heights on a road to nowhere?

AS WORLD WAR I wound down, the former German chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg was asked how such a catastrophic event could have happened.

His reply: “Ah, if only we knew.”

Years from now, the Bears might be playing their home games miles from Arlington Heights. The 326 acres that once housed Arlington Park could instead be filled by a mixed-use development. Bethmann-Hollweg's phrasing would serve as appropriate epitaph.

That's because as the initiative currently swerves, it's baffling how a $5 billion business and a thriving suburb can be immersed in such wavering static.

Too many indicators are that the Bears and Arlington Heights are once again a losing exacta.

It shouldn't be. But it is.

BEGIN WITH THE BEARS, an organization that should thank its lucky paws for being legacies into a group that decades ago opted for a fair-sharing, socialistic business model.

More than 15 months ago, George McCaskey and associates were hauled into the bidding for the Arlington land by Churchill Downs Inc.

Does CDI have a hidden agenda regarding that pandering?

Churchill Inc. then designated the Bears as “winners” of the suspicious derby. An 18-month window — extending through March 2023 — was declared to allow all due diligence before the team decides whether to close on the $197.2 million purchase agreement.

FOR CLOSE TO A YEAR, the franchise masters, in public perception, were running silently with a vigorous sense of purpose.

Then in September, a flurry contradicted that:

• CEO Ted Phillips — designated project point man — abruptly said he is retiring next year at age 65. It makes no sense.;

• The Bears then held their grand “community meeting” at Hersey High. The evening featured hollow glitz, underpinned by the spirit of Spanky, Darla and Alfalfa putting on a show “so the whole gang will come.”;

• The neon turnover came when McCaskey quelled the rah-rah by stating while the team would finance the stadium, it would need public help and “property-tax certainty” to complete the project.


Bad words, Bears — extraordinarily poorly timed.

ENTER THE VILLAGE OF ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, most specifically president Tom Hayes, manager Randy Recklaus and the “collegial” village board members.

In his own button-downed manner, Hayes appears to understand that the Bears have left broad gaps in project data supported by hard numbers — deep into that 18-month window.

But he also has yet to embrace full transparency, none greater than exploring in detail his village's back pages with tax incremental financing.

ON ITS WEBSITE — — the village is finally listing the seven instances of TIF-ING since the developmental “tool” was first used in 1983.

The summaries are for civic simpletons.

The initial TIFs involved the redevelopment of downtown Arlington Heights. The first result was the 14-story Dunton Tower, which opened in 1987.

Recklaus, in particular, has tried to “sell” the idea that the downtown redevelopment wouldn't have happened without TIF money.

That's a spurious claim. The 1983 TIF-ING most significantly allowed chosen developers to minimize risk and basically be handed a license to haul off profits from an inevitable rebuild.

Hayes and Co. need to achieve a fresh unclogging of informational channels to their public. Indignant posturing — with a global project at hand — is a waste of time.

Why fear full truths?

IN RECENT DAYS, the Daily Herald's Chris Placek has done a terrific job presenting opinions of regional school district administrators about the impact of TIF-fing to get the Bears to AP.

Those perspectives vary. But they underscore that if the purchase is finalized, the road ahead will only be subject to even more intense scrutiny.

Lost in the fog — George McCaskey, please take note — is that any entity redeveloping the Arlington acreage will probably seek some form of public money with infrastructure.

In that compartment, the Bears are no different from any business from Amazon on down to Flintstones LLC. That baseline must fairly be in any conclusions about “help” for the team.

Right now, McCaskey and huddlers are third-and-7 to keep the drive alive.

If it fails, some might ask, “Why?”

The most apt response?

“Ah, if only we knew.”

• Jim O'Donnell's Sports and Media column appears Sunday and Thursday. Reach him at

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