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Bears new stadium: Arlington Heights locals push for compromise to bring team back to the suburb

A group of Arlington Heights locals is not happy with the turn the Chicago Bears’ new stadium plans have taken. So local business owners and community leaders came together on Wednesday to try to encourage local school boards to accept a tax compromise with the Bears.

Members of Touchdown Arlington hosted a letter signing party at Jimmy D’s District for locals to express their support for a recently proposed tax deal, in the hopes that it will pave the way for the Bears to build their new stadium at Arlington Park.

“We feel strongly that this is the highest and best use for the land and will likely procure the most income for our tax base,” said Holly Connors, a local real estate broker and member of Touchdown Arlington steering committee. “We feel that these school boards have been short sighted in seeing the long term benefits.”

At Wednesday’s meet up, Connors said that Touchdown Arlington got signatures for more than 1,500 pre-written letters addressed to members of the local school boards that have been negotiating tax assessments.

“We understand the Bears’ frustration with the negotiations with the school boards,” Connors said. “We very much understand that. We feel strongly that the school district has been incredibly short sighted. They’re in the process of missing an opportunity for a win-win for our schools and our kids. My kids go to school at Rolling Meadows High School, and the financial benefit to District 214 and other school districts is so outstanding, they’re just missing it.”

The Bears bought 326 acres for nearly $200 million in Arlington Heights last year. Since the purchase, the Bears hired new president and CEO Kevin Warren who says the team has turned its attention back to building a stadium in the city. In a statement, Warren said the team was committed to contributing $2 billion to help build that stadium in Chicago.

One of the reasons the Bears have decided to focus on the city instead of the suburbs has been long negotiations on the value of their land, and the tax bill that comes with it. Initially the two sides were $100 million apart, but recently the village noted the two sides have come closer together in negotiations. Last month, they revealed a short term proposal that would allow the Bears to pay $6.3 million the first year and $3.6 million the second year.

“The possibility that the Chicago Bears could find a different location has remained an option since day one and this project has never been considered a ‘done deal’ in Arlington Heights,” the village said in a statement last month. “The ultimate outcome of their current discussions with the City of Chicago is unknown. What the Village knows is that the Arlington Park property provides the Chicago Bears with the unique potential to own and build a multi-use development on 326 acres, in a key location that is easily accessible by public transportation, and is centrally located for visitors and season ticket holders. The Village remains committed to ensuring that any development of the former Arlington Park site, which is unmatched in all of northern Illinois, will provide broad benefits to our community and will create a new regional destination befitting the great legacy of the property. Village leaders will not approve any plan that does not meet these expectations.”

The Bears’ Chicago plan is not a done deal, either. They still need to secure public funding to cover the rest of the costs of the development beyond the $2 billion they’ve committed to investing. In addition, they’ll need to secure the approval of Friends of the Parks, a group that aims to “ensure an equitable park system for a healthy Chicago.” Friends of the Parks filed a federal lawsuit back in 2016 to block the construction of the Lucas Museum on the lakefront, which ultimately steered the museum out of Chicago altogether. The group has suggested alternate sites for a Bears stadium in the city, like the former site of Michael Reese hospital in Bronzeville.

Touchdown Arlington formed about a year ago and describes itself as a “grassroots coalition” of residents and business owners who want to help make the “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to develop a new Bears stadium and entertainment district “a win-win for the Arlington Heights community and the Chicago Bears.”

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