Illinois legislators take another stab at Bears’ Arlington Heights stadium legislation with just a week to go in session

·4 min read

With one week remaining in the Illinois legislature’s spring session, a revised version of proposed legislation to aid the Chicago Bears’ move to Arlington Heights has surfaced in Springfield.

Like the previous proposal, the new bill would freeze the property tax assessment on the former Arlington International Racecourse, where the Bears have proposed a new stadium as part of a $5 billion mixed-use development, and create a $3 admission tax to help pay off debt incurred to fund renovations of Soldier Field two decades ago.

Among the changes in the new bill are a restructured oversight board that would approve incentive agreements with the Bears. The bill would make state lawmakers nonvoting members of the panel, and also removes language that would have given the board zoning authority over the site.

The latest version also tweaks a proposal to share revenue generated on the site from state sales tax, hotel tax and liquor taxes and a new 3% surcharge on sports betting revenue, which was intended to help Arlington Heights and surrounding communities pay for infrastructure improvements.

The new setup would add Schaumburg to the list of beneficiaries and would change the payout percentages so that Arlington Heights would get 30% of the revenue; Palatine and Rolling Meadows each would get 14%; and Cook County, Buffalo Grove, Elk Grove Village, Mount Prospect, Prospect Heights, Schaumburg and Wheeling would each get 6%.

Democratic state Rep. Marty Moylan of Des Plaines said the new bill, filed Wednesday, reflects negotiations that have taken place since he filed a measure last month. That proposal caught some local officials and fellow lawmakers off guard.

“We’ve listened to what stakeholders had to say, what they’re concerned about, what issues there were, and we made some adjustments,” Moylan said Friday. “We want to be proactive.”

Joining Moylan as a co-sponsor on the measure is freshman state Rep. Mary Beth Canty, a fellow Democrat who just completed a term as an Arlington Heights village trustee.

In a statement Friday on Twitter, Canty said: “The latest proposal is a step forward but by no means final. My sponsorship of this legislation reflects my support for continued discussions with all stakeholders engaged.”

She also said she hopes “to continue these conversations in the months ahead” — a possible indication of her thoughts on the proposal’s near-term prospects with the General Assembly scheduled to adjourn at the end of next week.

Arlington Heights Village Manager Randy Recklaus said Friday afternoon that he hadn’t read the latest iteration but would “certainly be reviewing it.”

“We will be continuing to speak with Rep. Moylan, Rep. Canty and other contributors,” Recklaus said.

Recklaus said that Canty’s sponsorship was “not necessarily” a sign of the village’s support for the proposal.

Moylan’s proposal is scheduled for a hearing Tuesday morning in the House Executive Committee. The hearing would mark the first public airing of any proposal aimed at helping the Bears among several that have been introduced this session.

Any proposal that would ease the Bears exit is likely to be met with skepticism from Chicago lawmakers, which is part of the rationale behind the admission tax in Moylan’s proposal.

But even if the ticket tax appeases lawmakers, the Bears in the past have not taken kindly to the idea that the team has any obligation to help retire debt related to the prior renovations of Soldier Field. Due to refinancing and years of primarily paying interest instead of principal, the debt ballooned from the original $399 million to $631 million.

The Bears have said they will pay to build a new stadium but would only proceed with their planned $5 billion mixed-use development if they get tax “certainty” and public funding for infrastructure. Local school districts have expressed concerns about the influx of students residential developments on the site could add to their rolls.

Both versions of Moylan’s proposal have incorporated elements the Bears have sought to aid their move to the suburbs, including a freeze on the property tax assessment for the 326-acre former Arlington International Racecourse site, which the team bought earlier this year for $197 million.

Under the plan, the team would have to negotiate a special payment with the oversight board to offset some of the revenue that would be lost due to the frozen assessment.