Tax plan proposal filed in Springfield that could help Bears’ proposed development in Arlington Heights – The Denver Post

Legislation was filed in Springfield on Monday that could help the Chicago Bears fund their Arlington Heights development project by freezing the property tax assessment on the former Arlington International Racetrack property for 40 years.

The plan, which would require the Bears to invest at least $500 million in converting the 326-acre site into a stadium and surrounding mixed-use development, has been around for weeks and is drawing some skepticism, even from lawmakers. of the state that introduced the bill.

“I have expressed my doubts as to whether this is an approach … that we really want to open the door to,” Senator Ann Gillespie said Monday.

The Arlington Heights Democrat said she was sponsoring the proposal in part because she wanted to see the concept, which she said reflects a proposal from the Bears and other business interests, incorporated into a larger conversation about the reform of a distinct form of development tax assistance known as tax increment financing. FITs are a frequently used economic development tool that she says often results in homeowners and small businesses paying higher property taxes.

“If we’re going to do it, we have to do it in a way that protects residential taxpayers and small business taxpayers from paying a disproportionate share of the burden,” Gillespie said.

The measure filed Monday, which could also be used for other megaprojects, would require companies such as the Bears entering into such agreements to negotiate an annual payment to local tax agencies in addition to property tax payments based on the frozen assessment. The idea is to create an incentive for bigger developments that wouldn’t happen without the aid, proponents say.

The Bears declined to comment and the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, which has been a strong supporter of such a proposal, did not respond to a request for comment.

The legislation has yet to go to committee for review, and is likely to meet a pushback from Chicago lawmakers who don’t want to make it easy for the NFL’s chartered franchise to leave his eponymous city.

Sen. Robert Peters, a Democrat from Chicago whose district includes Soldier Field, said he needed to reconsider Gillespie’s latest proposal, but expressed disappointment with how the whole situation was handled by the Bears.

“I think what I would say to the Bears, what they should have done first, is talk to people and the variety of different stakeholders before deciding to make a bunch of threats to leave town.” , Peters said. “This whole long dragging process is going the way it should because the Bears themselves worked it backwards. And it’s on them.

A spokeswoman for Gov. JB Pritzker, who has previously said he does not support state aid for a new suburban Bears stadium, did not respond Monday to a request for comment on the latest proposal. .

One of Pritzker’s recent economic development priorities has been the creation of a special fund to help secure deals with companies considering locating in Illinois. But the legislation creating the fund, which he signed into law on Friday, expressly prohibits its use to provide incentives to professional sports teams moving to the state.

Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes said village officials are still trying to fully understand the proposal Gillespie filed on Monday, but he welcomed the idea of ​​making a Bears move more financially viable.

“The interesting thing about this bill is that it applies to other mega projects that could benefit the state,” Hayes said. “So we’re looking forward to the state’s response to that to figure out where things go from here.”

Local school officials fear the legislation will limit their property tax revenues, even though they would potentially have more students due to new housing on the Bears site.

The mayor said village officials have already spoken to school officials to allay their concerns. “It’s going to be beneficial in the long run for all tax agencies – at least that’s our hope,” he said.

Arlington Heights Village Superintendent Randy Recklaus said it’s still unclear “what the bill is going to be in its final form.”

“But regardless of who buys Arlington Park, we’ll be watching closely to see if there are any new tools created for municipalities like us that deal with these types of projects,” he said.

The Bears agreed to buy the old equestrian track for $197 million in September 2021, but the team has yet to close the deal. Team president George McCaskey said earlier that while ownership of the racetrack remained the team’s “single focus”, officials were still trying to determine if they could complete the deal at the time. first quarter of this year.

New Bears President and CEO Kevin Warren, who in a previous job oversaw the construction of a new stadium for the Minnesota Vikings, added that it is essential that “we are methodical, we are detailed and we took the time to plan it properly. ”

In Arlington Heights, the Bears have offered to build a new gated stadium as part of $5 billion of apartments, condominiums, bars, restaurants and parks, but team executives say they won’t. will not proceed with development without a government infrastructure grant. costs.

Jeremy Gorner of the Chicago Tribune contributed from Springfield. Pioneer Press reporter Caroline Kubzansky also contributed.


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