Bears, business groups unveil new tax incentives for Arlington Heights stadium

Backers of a new plan to subsidize the Chicago Bears’ proposed Arlington Heights stadium are drafting a game so far short of quarterbacks in Springfield.

In fact, most of its supporters are still crowded.

No legislation has yet been tabled and no sponsor has been named for the measure that would create a new type of tax incentive known as PILOT. This stands for remittance of taxes.

That would allow the Bears to pay Arlington Heights an agreed-upon amount for property taxes on the 326-acre site at the old Arlington International Racetrack. That amount may be less than what the team would be liable for if it pursued its stadium and other buildings that would increase the value of the property.

“As we have stated publicly, property tax certainty is necessary for the Arlington Park project to move forward. We will continue to conduct due diligence on how to achieve this goal,” the Bears said in a statement.

In a summary of the proposal, the team said 35 other states have similar tax incentives to attract major development, putting Illinois at a disadvantage. Bears’ proposal would apply the PILOT incentive only to projects with a capital investment of more than $500 million. The stadium in Arlington Heights alone is estimated to cost at least $2.5 billion.

A key question in Bears’ proposal is whether schools in the Arlington Heights area will be involved in any payment negotiations. Any development that adds families to the area will increase enrollment—and thus increase funding needs, which are now largely provided through property taxes.

Municipalities and private developers can mutually terminate incentives at any time, but the developer must agree to live in the property for at least 20 years, a draft of the legislation says.

The Bears have hired consultants, one of the state’s leading business groups and the Road Builders Association to push through the legislation.

The idea was floated weeks ago in Springfield, including at a meeting with senior Democratic staff that included at least one representative of the governor. JB Pritzker’s office. But the plan met with initial backlash, a source with knowledge of the meeting told The Sun-Times.

But now, proponents of the incentive, including the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, are fighting to win support — arguing that without state support for the Bears, the team might pack up and leave.

“I think that needs to happen by the end of this session. If it doesn’t, you’re going to start having other states come up with their case for why the Chicago Bears should be the St. Louis Bears,” said Todd Maisch, president of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce. “That’s the reality of the world. People may not like it, but everyone wants the Chicago Bears to stay the Chicago Bears. It’s going to get a little messy. But I think we’ll hit a positive balance.”

Governor's 2020 JB Pritzker (left); Illinois Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Todd Maisch (right).

Governor’s 2020 JB Pritzker (left); Illinois Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Todd Maisch (right).

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times Documents;

Maisch also pushed back on the notion that this was a “Bears bailout,” or what many see as a subsidy to a team that will earn $520 million in 2021, according to Forbes.

“I reject the notion that this is a bailout. There is competition among states and industries. Let’s recognize that there is competition across the country for investment, whether it’s light industry, transportation or sports teams,” Maisch said.

In September, the Bears laid the groundwork to seek some form of public subsidy for the massive mixed-use stadium development they are exploring in Arlington Heights. The team said it would not seek public funding for stadium construction, but would seek “additional funding and assistance” for a broader mixed-use development, which it described as one of the largest in Illinois history.

Pritzker has said he does not support public financing of the stadium.

In the closing days of the lame-duck session of the Illinois General Assembly, lawmakers passed the Illinois Investment Act, which included the following: “The Department [of Commerce and Economic Opportunity] Financial incentives may not be awarded to professional sports organizations that move their operations from one location in the state to another in the state. ”

This refers to discretionary funds used to settle fees. The bill has yet to come to the governor’s desk.

State Rep. Mark Walker, D-Arlington Heights, said he had reviewed the latest proposal — and had a lot of questions, including from the Board of Appeals and Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi. What do you think about freezing an assessment of this magnitude for 20 years.

State Rep. Gov. Mark Walker (from left) JB Pritzker and State Senator. Ann Gillespie listens to Arlington Heights Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jon Ridler (right) speak during the Governor's visit to Arlington Heights in October.

State Rep. Gov. Mark Walker (from left) JB Pritzker and State Senator. Ann Gillespie listens to Arlington Heights Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jon Ridler (right) speak during the Governor’s visit to Arlington Heights in October.

Paul Valade/Daily Herald Archives

“I wouldn’t call it a subsidy. It’s really more than paying less taxes. I think the program is interesting. I think it’s new. We don’t do it in the state.

“The difficulty I have is that it requires municipalities to negotiate on behalf of school districts, and I’m not sure school districts should have more power over the taxes that should go to them that they do that in this plan, said Walker. “I’m not sure. That’s a shortcoming.”

State Rep. Mary Beth Canty, D - Arlington Heights

State Rep. Mary Beth Canty, D – Arlington Heights

Walker also called it an “interesting proposal from the state to move companies here,” but not necessarily for companies that just want to relocate to other parts of the state.

Walker said he was not asked to sponsor the bill.

“I can be seen as a sponsor. I would choose to sponsor is a completely different question. I think it’s out of the air. They want to see who is going to be the best.”

State Rep. Mary Beth Canty, D-Arlington Heights, told The Sun-Times that the proposal deserves “careful scrutiny” before being considered. Canty is also a member of the Arlington Park Village Council.

“Like any taxpayer commitment, the proposed subsidy program for the new Chicago Bears stadium deserves careful scrutiny before we decide whether to proceed,” Canty said in an email to The Sun-Times.

“While I am excited by the prospect of bringing new economic development opportunities to our communities, we must clearly assess the potential return on our spending and the state’s suitability for participation in this project.”

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