Bears Move to Arlington Heights No Longer a Done Deal

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Demolition continues on the old Arlington Park race track, now owned by the Chicago Bears. It has been the expected site of a new stadium since the Bears signed an agreement in 2021. But an issue over taxes in Cook County has the team still exploring other options when it comes to a new home.

“The Chicago Bears goal of building the largest single development project in Illinois history, led by billions of dollars in private capital investment, and the jobs and economic benefits generated, is at risk in Arlington Heights,” the Bears said in a statement. “The stadium-based project remains broadly popular in Arlington Heights, Chicagoland, and the state. However, the property’s original assessment at five times the 2021 tax value, and the recent settlement with Churchill Downs for 2022 being three times higher, fails to reflect the property is not operational and not commercially viable in its current state.”

“We will continue the ongoing demolition activity and work toward a path forward in Arlington Heights, but it is no longer our singular focus.”

That focus now reportedly includes Naperville, a western suburb of Chicago in neighboring DuPage County, where the Bears might find more favorable taxes. The office of Naperville mayor Scott Wehrli confirmed that he has reached out to the Bears.

The Arlington Park Tax Problem

The Bears closed on their purchase of the Arlington Park property earlier this year with the previous owner, Churchill Downs. Churchill Downs owes taxes on the property for 2022, and they recently reached a settlement with the county to pay just under $7.8 million, down from what was initially a liability of $16.2 million.

Churchill Downs is obviously pleased. But in negotiations, the county did another assessment of the property, and have deemed its current value at $197 million. That is up significantly from the most recent assessment in 2021 that valued the property at $33 million.

Churchill Downs will pay the property taxes for 2022, but the Bears are on the hook for the 2023 taxes, which will be calculated off of the new assessment. And since the Bears can’t actually move into a new stadium there until at least 2026 – and more likely beyond that – that tax bill becomes a big problem for the team.

The play to Naperville and DuPage County may be serious, or it may be a negotiating tactic with Arlington Heights and Cook County. But a spokesman for the Cook County Assessor’s office said their office isn’t budging.

“The 2022 assessment of the former Arlington Racecourse site is consistent with both the 2023 purchase price of the property and the price per square foot of other similarly sized land in the area. The facts speak for themselves.”

That 2023 purchase price was $197.2 million, which is right at the property’s current assessment.

Arlington Heights mayor Thomas Hayes says that he isn’t put off by the Bears meeting with other municipalities, nor does he think they will end up going to Naperville or somewhere else. “The Arlington property is clearly the best site for the Chicago Bears football stadium for the next 50 years or more. I’m hopeful the Bears will continue with Arlington Heights. I wouldn’t discourage them from exploring other options. But I think ultimately they will find that this is the best option.”

The Bears have made Soldier Field their primary home since 1971. Originally opened in 1924, it is the oldent stadium in use in the NFL. The Bears cannot leave their lease at Soldier Field until 2026.

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