The Arlington Heights trustees on Monday kicked off a new phase of negotiations with the Chicago Bears, approving a preliminary deal with the soccer club to guide a possible redevelopment of Arlington International Racecourse.
The pre-implementation agreement does not include obligations to the football club, which offered a stadium worth $ 5 billion and multi-functional development for a site of 326 acres.
However, so far, this is the most concrete indication that the village intends to continue the project in collaboration with the team.
The trustees took the final vote after a series of public comments accused the village of insufficient transparency, and public commentator Keith Moens called the approval a “rubber stamp”.
“So far, we’ve given whatever billionaire Bears asked for,” said Moens. “When will this board refuse them?”
Arlington Heights mayor Thomas Hayes “wholeheartedly” disagreed with Moens’ characterization.
“I think we have been completely transparent throughout this process,” he said.
Village manager Randy Recklaus, Bears representatives and other village workers also highlighted how preliminary discussions about the future of the racetrack are still relevant today.
Commentator Chris Hiebert was not convinced.
“It seems that this process will go on one after the other, where no vote in itself matters, but somewhere we have passed the point of no return without broader civic discussion,” he said.
During the third meeting to discuss the pre-development agreement, village leaders emphasized that the document did not set out any specific commitments to the Chicago Bears and that the details of the entire project were still pending.
Other trustees also rejected the idea that the project had been pre-approved or that the village had already been sold after the Bears had been brought there.
Trustee John Scaletta asked Bears General Counsel Cliff Stein to confirm that they had met a second time that evening, the first being the Committee of the Whole Meeting on October 10.
“It’s hard to make a deal in the back office if I don’t know you,” Scaletta told Stein.
Scaletta also had concerns about the plans themselves. He admitted that he exposed these concerns at a meeting on October 10, but wanted to rewrite them at a meeting with more participants.
Scaletta was still not a fan of transit-oriented development, which emphasizes public transport and pedestrian traffic over cars as a means of getting around.
“Too much is going on, like 10 pounds of sugar in a five-pound bag,” he said.
Scaletta, along with confidant Jim Tinaglia, was one of two loudly opposed to the initial plans at the October 10 meeting. He said he was repeating his comments because he knew the stakes were high.
“We have not missed that this is a major redevelopment, as Mr. Recklaus mentioned – the largest in our state, perhaps the largest in the country,” said Scaletta. “And this village council is committed to doing it right.”
Tinaglia, for his part, repeated his concerns that the plans presented would distract from the center of Arlington Heights and his wish that the racecourse redevelopment should be more than a transit-oriented residential / commercial development.
“I would be very careful about how our developers, our staff or anyone else would get into the localization plan,” said Tinaglia. It’s hard to go back and start over – also very expensive. “
Tinaglia said he would not support the construction plans that Bears submitted to management. But he and all the other trustees voted to ratify the pre-development agreement as a first step and gesture of willingness to cooperate with the Bears.
In a note attached to the draft contract, there is a sentiment to work together, with little, if any, details of the plan. In this memo, village workers state that the document is intended to “establish and publicly announce the intention.”
“Given the early stage of the project, employees and the Chicago Bears feel it is too early to make such commitments,” the memo says. “However, we both agree that it is important that all stakeholders understand the intentions and goals of the Village and Chicago Bears.”
The Bears have entered into a $ 197.2 million purchase deal for a race track that is now closed in September 2021. The purchase has not been finalized yet. In the meantime, however, the team proposed a mixed-use project that would include commercial and residential areas, as well as an NFL stadium with a dome. Trustees also previously approved the admission of the sports betting facility on site – but only in conjunction with a professional sports stadium.
How the project will be paid for is a source of controversy.
The Bears made it clear that they would ask for public funding for every project they undertook.
At a public meeting in September at the John Hersey High School, Bears owner Ted McCaskey told a crowd of around 700 people “we will need help” to make the richly illustrated redevelopment proposed by the team a reality.
McCaskey stressed at the meeting that every NFL stadium built in the last 20 years has received some kind of financial aid from the host community, often in the form of tax breaks on utilities. The Bears pledged not to ask for any public money to build the stadium structure itself.
The village for its part tried not to offer public aid to the bears, and Mayor Tom Hayes told residents at a recent meeting “please remember the village must say yes.”
The pre-development agreement makes a clear statement about whether or how the village can give the team public money, but lists a number of possible taxpayer financing options, including “special services areas; special grades; creating a business district and imposing a tax on the business district in the Project area; imposing a parking tax on the Project site; and the imposition of other taxes generated by the Project. “
The most discussed public funding option for a project so far has been an incremental finance district where property taxes would be frozen in an area at a certain level and the difference in revenues over a set period would return to the project as opposed to tax collection.
Some residents loudly opposed the idea, known as the TIF neighborhood, and the Americans for Prosperity, a libertarian-conservative group financed by the Koch brothers, launched a petition demanding a new regulation that would prevent the village from offering public money to any business that wants to open in the area.
The petition was met with a cold reception from the village leaders, and the trustees unanimously rejected the draft regulation, and Hayes called it a “terrible idea.”
Americans for Prosperity has the ability to collect more signatures to present the ordinance to voters as a referendum in the next election. – Next year.
The TIF district would also have an impact on the tax authorities, which usually collect property tax revenues from the race track area, in particular school districts.
Laurie Heinz, director of the Palatine 15 Consolidated School District, recently wrote to village leaders asking for more information on potential forms of public aid for the project and warning that “closing a billion dollars (equalized estimate) in the TIF District for 23 years would be a real concern. for our District. “
“Anyone trying to do a serious analysis … at this early stage is just a little ahead of themselves,” said Recklaus.
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