Faced with some component fears – if not outright opposition – to the Chicago Bears’ potential move to Arlington Heights, Mayor Tom Hayes is touting what the transfer could mean for local property values and taxes.
The three-term mayor said the prospect of creating a Bears Stadium and surrounding recreation area in Arlington Park could be a boon to the village and homeowners. It raises hopes for a large-scale redevelopment of the 326-acre property that will generate revenue for local coffers well beyond the $1 million provided annually.
“We envision it would do great things for their property values because people will see Arlington Heights as a destination not just to go to the Bears game but to raise their family, as they always have,” Hayes said. “I think this will only improve our reputation and our quality of life.”
Increased property values may raise taxes, but Hayes said he believes the redevelopment will at least allow the village to keep its share of the level of the tax bill. The village accounts for 12% of a homeowner’s average property tax bill, while schools comprise two-thirds.
“I can’t say we’re going to get the money back. I don’t know what’s going to happen yet. But it would give us a better chance of keeping the property tax (increase) at zero percent year over year,” he said.
The mayor’s latest comments came after a village council meeting on Monday night, when Hayes – in response to two residents who took to the podium – said that local tax money would only be used as a “last resort” to secure the Bears Stadium deal.
In an interview after the meeting, Hayes noted that other sources of funding — besides general state and local funding — have been used to pay for NFL stadiums in recent years. This includes loans from the NFL, the sale of personal seat licenses to season ticket holders, revenue from subsequent development around the stadium, as well as team-owners’ dollars.
“I don’t know how they’re going to do that,” Hayes said of the potentially billion-dollar Bears Stadium project. “They didn’t ask us for any money at this point. We didn’t allocate any money.”
On issues of traffic and congestion, Hayes said the village will work with other government agencies — including Rolling Meadows, Palatine, the Illinois Department of Transportation, Cook County and Union Pacific — on how to transport about 80,000 visitors in and out of the area. A stadium with at least eight Bears Stadium games annually.
“(There are) a lot of issues to consider and a long way to go, but I think we can address all of these issues in a way that addresses everyone’s concerns,” he said.
Hayes said he had not seen specific redevelopment plans from the Beers family; In fact, he said he didn’t think the team had developed such plans. But he believes the team at least has a vision for an expansion site that would mirror what other NFL teams have done: a stadium complemented by amenities like restaurants, hotels and other recreational features that would keep fans there for more than three game hours.
Hayes and village staff have not yet sat down with Bears management to discuss the details, since the team announced last Wednesday that it had signed a $197.2 million purchase agreement to buy Arlington Park from Churchill Downs Inc. But the mayor said face-to-face that a face-to-face meeting is planned relatively soon, as he hopes to learn more details about the team’s proposal and where village leaders will share information about zoning and the approval process.
At the same time, they plan to provide additional assistance to aid in this process by hiring consultants in different areas.
“We’re checking out an 80,000-seater stadium – our guys don’t do that every day,” Hayes said. “We want to make sure that everything is encoded and that it is secure.”
Tuesday was the last day for horse trainers and owners to clear their backyards at Arlington Park and take their thoroughbreds to Hawthorne Racecourse or elsewhere. Village officials are now talking with the track management about the upkeep, maintenance and safety of the property.
Because of the lengthy approval process — and the fact that closure is not expected until late 2022 or early 2023 — Hayes said he doesn’t expect construction activity any time soon, including the dismantling of the stately six-story listed building.
“You won’t see any bulldozers there (Wednesday),” he said. “I couldn’t even predict the future of the stadium. Of course that depends on whether the Bears wins the bid and where the stadium will go.”