Bears, business group push to make Arlington Heights subsidy plan more than just X’s and O’s on a blackboard

Supporters of a new plan to subsidize a proposed Arlington Heights stadium for the Chicago Bears are drawing up a play that is so far missing a quarterback in Springfield.

In fact, most of its backers are still in the huddle.

No legislation has been filed, and no sponsors have been named for the measure that would create a new class of tax incentive called a PILOT. That stands for payment in lieu of taxes.

It would allow the Bears to pay to Arlington Heights a negotiated sum for the property taxes on the 326-acre site of the old Arlington International Racecourse. The amount presumably would be less than what the team would be liable for as it pursues its stadium and other buildings that would add to the property’s value.

"As we have said publicly, property tax certainty is necessary for the Arlington Park project to move forward. We continue to do our due diligence on how that can be accomplished," the Bears said in a statement.

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

A key issue with the Bears’ proposal is whether Arlington Heights-area schools would be involved in negotiating any payments. Any development that would add families to the area would increase school enrollment — and by extension the need for funding, now largely supplied through property taxes.


A draft of the legislation said a municipality and private developer can mutually terminate the incentive at any time, but the developer must agree to stay at the property for at least 20 years.

The Bears have enlisted consultants, one of the state’s leading business groups and a road builders’ association to promote the legislation.

The idea was floated in Springfield weeks ago, including in a meeting with high-level Democratic staffers that included at least one representative of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office. But the plan was initially met with a resounding no, a source with knowledge of the meeting told the Sun-Times.

But now, supporters of the incentive, including the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, are trying to round up support — using the argument that without state support for the Bears, the team could pack up and leave.

"I think it needs to happen by the end of this session. If not, you’re going to start to have other states make their cases on why the Chicago Bears should be the St. Louis Bears," said Todd Maisch, president of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce. "That’s just the reality of the world. And people may not like it, but everybody wants the Chicago Bears to remain the Chicago Bears. It can get a little messy. But I think we’re going to reach a positive balance.

Maisch also fought back the characterization that it is a "Bears bailout," which is how many view any subsidies for a team that took in $520 million in revenue in 2021, according to Forbes.

"I would reject the notion it’s a bailout. There’s competition across state and industries. Let’s recognize that there’s a competition for investments across the nation, whether it be light manufacturing, transportation or whether it be sports teams," Maisch said.

In September, the Bears laid out the groundwork to seek some sort of public subsidy for a massive, mixed-use stadium development they are exploring on the Arlington Heights site. The team said it wouldn’t seek public funding for stadium construction, but would ask for "additional funding and assistance" for a broader, mixed-use development it called one of the largest in Illinois history.

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

And in the waning days of the Illinois General Assembly’s lame duck session, legislators passed the Invest in Illinois Act, which includes the following language: "the Department [of Commerce and Economic Opportunity] shall not award economic incentives to a professional sports organization that moves its operation from one location in the State to another location in the State."

That was in reference to discretionary funds being used for closing costs.  That bill has yet to make it to the governor’s desk.

State Rep. Mark Walker, D-Arlington Heights, said he has reviewed the latest proposal — and has a lot of questions, including how the Board of Appeals and Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi would feel about freezing such a large assessment for 20 years.

"I wouldn’t call it a subsidy. It really is much more of paying fewer taxes. I think the plan is interesting. I think it’s new. We don’t do this in the state.

"The difficulty I have is that it requires the municipalities to negotiate on behalf of the school districts, and I’m not so sure the school district shouldn’t have more power on what happens with the tax money that should go to them that they do this in this plan," Walker said. "I’m not sure yet. That’s a shortcoming."

Walker also called it an "interesting proposition for the state to move companies here," but not necessarily for companies who are just seeking to relocate to other parts of the state.

Walker said he hasn’t been asked to sponsor the bill.

"I could be considered a sponsor. Would I choose to sponsor is a whole different question. I think it’s out of the wind. They’re trying to see who would be best."

State Rep. Mary Beth Canty, D-Arlington Heights, told the Sun-Times the proposal deserves "careful review" before it’s considered. Canty is also on the Arlington Park Village Board.

"Like any commitment of taxpayer dollars, the proposed subsidy plan for a new Chicago Bears’ stadium deserves careful review before we decide whether to proceed," Canty said in an email to the Sun-Times.

"While I am excited at the prospect of bringing new economic development opportunities to our community, we have to clearly evaluate potential returns on our expenditure, and if it is the state’s place to get involved in this project."