Bears Stadium

Kevin Warren, Bears' Arlington Heights stadium road now looks much longer

Saber-rattling or not, the Bears' "long road" to Arlington Heights seems much longer after Kevin Warren's latest update

NBC Universal, Inc.

The Bears may very well wind up building their new, state-of-the-art domed stadium in Arlington Heights. Perhaps their dreams of walking away from Soldier Field and moving to the northern suburbs will come to fruition, and they’ll call Arlington Heights home for the next 20-to-100 years.

But what’s becoming clear, and what Bears president and CEO Kevin Warren brought into focus Monday night, is that any potential marriage between the Bears and Arlington Heights is a long, long way from becoming a reality.

"We do need a new home for the Chicago Bears,” Warren said Monday night during an invitation-only meeting at the Metropolis Performing Arts Center in Arlington Heights (H/t NBC 5’s Evrod Cassimy). “We have to figure out if Arlington Heights is legitimately a viable option or is it not. This has nothing to do with personal feelings. This is strictly business. And I just want to make sure that we're all on the same page and figure out if this is something that will work."

The Bears hope the Arlington Park Racecourse, which they recently closed on for $197.2 million, will be that “new home.” Clashes over tax issues, however, have caused the Bears’ discussions with Arlington Heights to reach a roadblock.

Officials from three local school districts – Palatine, Northwest Suburban High School District 214, and Palatine-Schaumburg District 211 – want the Bears to pay $7.9 million in taxes after the Cook County Assessor re-assessed the Arlington Park Racecourse property. That triennial re-assessment, which is in dispute, set the value of the Arlington Park property at $197 million, a massive increase from the $33 million assessment in 2021. That increase would raise the Bears’ annual property tax bill from $2.8 million to $16.2 million.

Churchill Downs, the Cook County Assessor, and the school districts reached an agreement for the former owner of the racecourse to pay $7.8 million in property taxes for last year based on a $95 million valuation. That deal will only last one year, and the Bears will have to negotiate it again. In a letter from Warren to the school districts obtained by NBC 5 Investigates, the Bears president called the $95 million number a “non-starter.” Warren countered with a $52 million value for the land, noting the tax bill would only increase once the stadium is built.

“Because we do not have property tax fairness,” Warren wrote. “We will not be moving forward with plans to develop the property at this time…”

The school districts did not counter Warren’s offer citing “the gulf” between their two positions.

On Monday, Warren said the Bears aren’t trying to “skirt” any taxes. He said they offered to pay the school districts $4.3 million in taxes. That’s $1.5 million more than Churchill Downs was paying.

These tax issues have led to a breakdown in talks between the Bears and the school districts. The two sides have not talked in a month, causing the Bears to no longer look at Arlington Heights as their “singular focus.”

"We were singularly focused on this development at Arlington Park," Warren said Monday. "Since that time has come and passed, and we've had a stalemate and a lack of communication -- and it sounds like it's a little bit more convoluted at this point in time than I thought it would be -- well, then we're in a position to start exploring other places and opportunities. As any good business person would do, that's what you need to do.

“I know if we're not communicating, which we haven't been in communication, there's not going to be much progress made. And so what we're hoping for is that we can sit down and continually have conversations, tell us what the concerns are and can we put our heads together, can we solve them?”

While the Bears have already started demolition on Arlington Park Racecourse, they maintain that doesn’t mean the site will be developed. The Bears have met with representatives from Naperville and Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson. They also received a letter from Waukegan.

Warren, who helped the Minnesota Vikings build U.S. Bank Stadium and reshaped college football as Big Ten Commissioner, claims these meetings with other municipalities aren’t a negotiating tactic. He’s just trying to find the best possible “partner” for the Bears to work with in this endeavor.

“This is not about the Chicago Bears trying to come in and take advantage of everyone,” Warren said. “It’s the opposite. It’s about the Chicago Bears finding a partner.”

“Once we have a legitimate partner, we will move forward,” Warren said. “If that’s in Arlington Heights, great. If it’s somewhere else, that’s great too.”

It would be easy to view the Bears' “very early” flirtations with Naperville, Chicago, and other municipalities as saber-rattling by Warren. That was certainly my initial view on it. There's no doubt he’s trying to create leverage out of thin air.

But from a pure dollars and cents standpoint, it’s obvious why the Bears have opened things up in their search for the stadium. The Cook County Assessor quintupled the property tax for a piece of land that, at the moment, isn’t commercially viable and won’t be for some time.

It’s fair for the Bears to look elsewhere for a “partner” that will give them “tax certainty,” as Warren calls it.

But the Bears aren’t a victim in this political game. Just another player.

The people of Arlington Heights and the surrounding communities want answers from the Bears. Answers on taxes they’ll have to pay to help support the infrastructure of this grand plan. Questions on traffic and the overall benefit this stadium will have for the area remain.

Warren dodged those questions with the nimbleness the Bears hope to see out of Khalil Herbert, D’Onta Foreman, and Roschon Johnson this fall. The Bears’ new president said the Bears will produce those studies "once we have clarity that we can work together, that this is a place that we can build a stadium.”

Back and forth they go. This dance will continue for some time and could perhaps go on so long that the Bears find a new partner and home for the 365-day entertainment district Warren and chairman George McCaskey envision.

Warren knows better than anyone how long the new stadium road is from inception to the first kickoff.

But for the Bears and Arlington Heights, that road now seems much, much longer.

Click here to follow the Under Center Podcast.

Contact Us