Editorial: Hey Bears. Is it Chicago or Arlington Heights?

Whatever you think about the declared wishes of the Chicago Bears for a new stadium on Chicago’s precious lakefront, massive taxpayer subsidies and all, one thing is for sure: It’s a big ask.

And yet, the NFL team continues to flirt with Arlington Heights, where it purchased a large tract of land, the former home of the Arlington Park racetrack. On Monday, village officials made public their proposed settlement of the long-running property tax dispute between the Bears and three area school districts. In essence, the village has suggested a compromise, presumably to keep the Bears in the northwest suburban game: The team would pay $6.3 million in property taxes for the 2023 tax year, $3.6 million for 2024, and then be subject to “negotiated” annual increases of between 3% and 10% for the next three years.

That seems like a resonable idea to us, and well within the boundaries of what other teams pay, but our attention was caught more by an assertion from Arlington Heights Village Manager Randy Recklaus.

“Recklaus reiterated Monday he has spoken to Bears representatives,” the Daily Herald reported, “who confirmed their interest in the Arlington Park property as a potential stadium site has not changed, despite their current organizational focus on sites in Chicago.”

There are lots of weaselly words in play here, “focus” being just one. In reality, of course, the Bears organization is playing Chicago off against Arlington Heights, trying to squeeze out the best deal while retaining the leverage of another option. Smart idea, but only if you’re the Bears.

Let’s say the team gets its Chicago stadium and seeks to develop or flip its land investment in Arlington Heights. Better by far to have a tax deal negotiated in advance but only successful because the village still is trying to win the stadium contest and apparently thinks it has a chance. The details, of course, have yet to be determined. But this is looking more and more like a situation where a private entity is out-negotiating two municipal governments.

We have a modest proposal for Mayor Brandon Johnson. Tell your pal Kevin Warren, team president, that any further discussion of a lakefront stadium is hereby contingent on a commitment to remaining in Chicago. Period.

If the lakefront stadium, with all the attendant issues, flies, great for them. If it doesn’t, then the Bears should at least commit to pursuing another site in the city. There are other good locations. Pass some of the risk in this matter to the Bears and away from taxpayers.

As for Arlington Heights? The same should apply. Don’t make any more deals, Mr. Recklaus, unless you have a commitment. The Bears were not forced to buy that land in your village.

Right now, it looks like the Bears have one set of messaging for the suburbs and another for the city. The team should not be the only ones doing the blitzing.

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