Arlington Heights mayor says Bears have responded to proposed deal

As the team juggles two stadium sites now in limbo, the Chicago Bears have received and responded to a proposed settlement from Arlington Heights that aims to resolve outstanding tax issues on the suburban option, village officials confirm.

“We’ve worked very hard to come to an agreement with the school districts that I think the Bears can be comfortable with, and that’s been communicated to the Bears, and that’s what we’re discussing now,” Mayor Tom Hayes told the Daily Herald. “So I feel very comfortable that should the Bears reengage with us and continue to explore the Arlington Park site, that the road is going to be much easier than we found in past months.”

Arlington Heights officials have spent nearly a year drafting a memorandum of understanding that would resolve a dispute between the Bears and three Arlington Heights-area school districts about property tax assessments and payments on the team’s 326-acre property.

Village Manager Randy Recklaus publicly presented settlement terms in March — but that was before the Bears received resounding rejections from Gov. J.B. Pritzker and state legislators in the team’s bid for public subsides to help bankroll a new Chicago lakefront stadium.

Hayes wouldn’t disclose all of the ins and outs of the settlement document that was sent to Halas Hall, but confirmed that some form of previous proposals — including the Recklaus presentation from the March 18 village board meeting — are still on the table.

The shuttered Arlington Park racetrack remains closed off after the facility held its last horse race in 2021. Buildings and barns were torn down after the Chicago Bears purchased the land in 2023.
Paul Valade/, March 2024

When asked if the Bears responded positively to the settlement, Hayes replied, “They have responded, and discussions continue.”

Last week, the three-term mayor announced he wouldn’t seek reelection, but he expects the Bears to decide whether or not to build a stadium in town before his term expires in 10 months.

“I feel really good that we’ve presented a proposal to the Bears that they can feel comfortable with, and we’ve communicated that to them, and they have responded, and discussions are continuing,” Hayes said. “I feel very hopeful about where things are at. And I’ve always said that, ultimately, I think the Bears will find that Arlington Heights is the best site for them.”

Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes, pictured in the Arlington Park grandstand during the track’s last season in 2021, expressed hope of resolving a tax dispute between the new property owners — the Chicago Bears — and three local districts.
Daily Herald File Photo 2021

A Bears spokesman said the club continues to maintain its focus on the lakefront site.

Bears President and CEO Kevin Warren told the Daily Herald earlier this month he isn’t ready to put the shuttered racetrack property up for sale, despite an organizational shift in focus to try to build a new stadium in Chicago.

It’s unclear exactly how much of a say the three school districts — Northwest Suburban High School District 214, Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 and Palatine Township Elementary District 15 — had in drafting the latest document, or if they’re fully or partially on board.

“We continue to work closely and collaboratively with the village of Arlington Heights regarding the redevelopment of Arlington Park and any discussions with the Bears,” the districts said in a joint statement. “The school districts have been a full partner with the village of Arlington Heights in preparation for the next steps of this process.”

Hayes said the schools “are definitely at the table.”

Northwest Suburban High School District 214 Superintendent Scott Rowe, from left, Palatine Township Elementary District 15 Superintendent Laurie Heinz and Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 Superintendent Lisa Small have been involved in negotiations with the Chicago Bears over the property tax bill at the 326-acre Arlington Park property.
Paul Valade/, February 2024

A possible village-brokered agreement between the Bears and schools comes as the team’s petition to lower the property value of the Arlington Park site makes its way through the legal process at the Illinois Property Tax Appeal Board.

The Bears on March 29 formally appealed the Feb. 28 decision of the Cook County Board of Review, which set the value of the property at $124.7 million and stuck the team with a $8.9 million tax bill.

The Bears want the value reduced to $60 million, which would lower the tax bill to $1.7 million.

In their formal written complaint, the club’s property tax attorneys submitted hundreds of pages of documents to the state agency, including two appraisals, comps and the racetrack demolition permits, according to records obtained from a Freedom of Information Act request.

After the organization closed on its $197.2 million purchase in February 2023, teardown of the grandstand and other structures was done with an eye to achieving a lower valuation for vacant land. The fact that demolition started in May and was completed by November is one of the key arguments of the team’s attorneys, who are seeking a hearing before the five-member, quasi-judicial body.

Demolition of the Arlington Park grandstand and other buildings was done last year with an eye to achieving a lower property value — and a lower tax bill — but the Bears didn’t get the tax determination they were seeking from Cook County officials.
Paul Valade/, September 2023

But it could take until early next year before a decision is rendered.

The county board of review has until Sept. 4 to submit evidence of its own or request an extension in response to the appeal. By July 6, the county must formally notify the three school districts and other local taxing bodies whose boundaries fall within the sprawling Arlington Park site.

Hayes acknowledged the Bears’ appeal is ongoing.

“There’s still issues to be resolved, but I think we’re in a much better place than we were, say, three, four, six months ago,” he said.

Though Hayes said he hoped the racetrack redevelopment process would have been “a little bit further down the road” by now, he didn’t blame the schools or the Bears for how the process has played out.

“Looking back on it, I can understand why it’s taken this long,” he said. “I’m very comfortable and feel very grateful for the (village) team that we put together and the work that we’ve done to try to make this happen. … I don’t regret anything that we’ve done, and I can understand everything that the Bears have done and the school districts have done from their perspective as well.”

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