Arlington school district gives Bears’ TIF plan an “F”

Local superintendent says schools need property tax money more than the Bears

Arlington Racecourse and Arlington village manager Randy Recklaus (Arlington Park, LinkedIn)
Arlington Racecourse and Arlington village manager Randy Recklaus (Arlington Park, LinkedIn)

Arlington Heights-area residents against using incentives to bring the Chicago Bears to the suburb are speaking out against a potential tax increment financing district and the chance it drains needed revenue from local schools.

Under a TIF arrangement, property taxes above a certain amount would go toward the NFL team’s mixed-use project instead of the local Palatine Township Elementary District, and school officials are already rallying against any such proposal, the Daily Herald reported. 

While the Bears have said they would redevelop Arlington International Racecourse into a new stadium without using taxpayer dollars, the NFL team has requested local government assistance to subsidize costs of building infrastructure for the entertainment district and mixed use development around the stadium that will include housing, offices and retail. The total project cost has been estimated at $5 billion.

“We want a seat at the table,” District 15 Superintendent Laurie Heinz said at a recent community meeting. “We’re going to fight against it all being TIF’ed because we will need money.”

If the taxpayer money is diverted away from the school, Heinz says the district will need to seek financial assistance from elsewhere to finance school expansions made necessary partly by the growth the Bears plans would bring.

Tax increment districts are popular with Illinois developers as they offer a buffer against property tax hikes for more than the initial two decades after a project is complete, as they allow the value of a parcel to increase without facing higher taxes. Local governments dependent on property taxes to support expansions of public services demanded by growth, though, often oppose them.

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“They know what we’re looking for,” Heinz said. “And whether it’s land or income, we likely are going to need to build additions.”

The Arlington International Racecourse, which the NFL team signed a $197 million purchase agreement for in September 2021, is located entirely within the boundaries of the K-8 school district that covers Palatine, Rolling Meadows, Hoffman Estates and Inverness and parts of Arlington Heights, South Barrington and Schaumburg. The district includes 15 elementary schools, four junior high schools and an alternative preschool, making it the second-largest elementary district in the state.

In addition to the existing need to expand the schools, Heinz pointed out that the Bears’ plan includes residential space, which would likely lead to more students living in the area, and therefore even more crowded schools.

“My job is to make sure the impact is properly considered and addressed throughout the development process so that District 15 is prepared for potential changes and not negatively impacted by the project,” Heinz said in her letter to the village manager. “District 15 taxpayers … cannot be left to shoulder the costs of the development as it may affect our schools.”

While a majority of Arlington Heights village board members have spoken positively of the proposal so far, Mayor Tom Hayes recently said “it’s certainly possible” that local officials reject the plans altogether.

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From left: Americans for Prosperity Illinois' Brian Costin and Mayor of Arlington Tom Hayes (Getty Images, LinkedIn/Brian Costin, Facebook/Rich Olejniczak SD25 Board Candidate)
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