Arlington Heights’ playbook: Tax breaks, public financing only considered as ‘last resort’ in luring Bears, suburb’s mayor says
“We haven’t been asked for anything yet, we haven’t committed to anything yet and we wouldn’t without plenty of thoughtful public discussions about it,” Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes said.
Public financing of a new stadium isn’t among Arlington Heights’ opening plays as it tries to lure the Chicago Bears to the northwest suburb, but the village could offer some perks to the McCaskey family if the game goes into overtime.
Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes said Tuesday that “everything is open to discussion” when it comes to negotiating with the Bears organization, but any taxpayer-funded incentives would only be considered “as a last resort.”
“We’re always willing to talk, but certainly since nothing has been asked for or suggested to us [by the Bears] at this point, we’re going to play it by ear,” Hayes said. “Like any business we’re trying to attract or retain, we certainly have an open mind.”
Arlington Heights, like many municipalities, does offer incentives to businesses, such as through the creation of tax increment financing districts. “But generally, we like to hold those as a last resort, if necessary,” Hayes said.
As for other ways the village could help subsidize the cost of a billion-dollar NFL stadium, “we haven’t been asked for anything yet, we haven’t committed to anything yet, and we wouldn’t without plenty of thoughtful public discussions about it,” Hayes said.
A week after the Bears announced their $197.2 million purchase agreement for the now-shuttered Arlington International Racecourse, Hayes said he expects to meet with team officials soon to hear more about their “specific vision” for the 326-acre parcel.
The sale, which is thought to be contingent on the Bears receiving village zoning approval, is not expected to close for more than a year.
Any stadium proposal would have to gain approval from Arlington Heights’ design commission, plan commission and ultimately its nine-member village board, which includes Hayes.
“We have a lot of time to talk these things through. We’re not rushing into anything,” he said.
A Bears spokeswoman declined to comment on whether the team would seek taxpayer-funded benefits, at either the municipal or state level.
The team would be on the hook for about $87 million if it were to break its Soldier Field lease with the Chicago Park District five years from now, pocket change in the grand scheme of potentially financing a new stadium that’s sure to have a 10-digit price tag.
Whether the team leaves the lakefront or not, taxpayers won’t be done footing the bill for Soldier Field’s 2002 renovation until 2033. The often ridiculed “spaceship” overhaul that made it the NFL’s smallest stadium was bankrolled by bonds issued by Illinois Sports Facilities Authority, debt that will total $660 million by the time it’s paid off.
That’s why several state lawmakers have moved to block any public funding for a new stadium. Last week, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said public financing for a new stadium is “not something that we’re looking at,” but he wouldn’t rule it out.
Meanwhile, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has invited the Bears to the negotiating table to stay at Soldier Field.
“I would love that the Bears be part of our present and our future,” she said last week. “But we’ve got to do a deal that makes sense for us in the context of where we are.”