A settlement has been reached in the property tax battle between the former owner of the Arlington Heights site where the Chicago Bears hope to build their future home and the surrounding school districts that will benefit from the increased tax bill.
The settlement agreement announced Thursday was reached between Churchill Downs, the former owner of Arlington Park, which is still pending the tax bill, and area school districts. But it’s a one-year deal, which means the site’s new owner, the Chicago Bears, will have to battle over land values again in the coming months.
As part of the triennial reassessment, the Cook County Assessor put the value of the land at $197 million, close to the amount the Bears paid for it in February. Churchill Downs objected and appealed the issue to the Cook County Board of Review.
Churchill Downs argued that the property was worth $37 million, while area school districts, which would benefit from property tax revenue, had lobbied for $150 million in assessed value.
The agreement announced this week by Review Board Commissioner Samantha Steele sets the current value of the land at $95 million.
“My staff looked at it and I feel like it’s a fair value considering all the market values for vacant land,” Steele told NBC 5 Investigates.
But the one-year deal means the land’s value will be reassessed in the coming months, setting the stage for the Bears to fight over value once the team is responsible for paying property taxes.
A Chicago Bears spokesman said they were not involved in this week’s deal. The team said earlier in May, of the $197 million valuation, “Paying property taxes is part of being a member of the community.”
“We want to pay our fair share. But the proposed assessment of the vacant property we purchased, and the taxes associated with it, would be more than five times what the property generated when it had a revenue-producing racetrack operating on it. Arlington Park would not be redeveloped by anyone with such an excessive property tax rate,” the statement read.
The Bears have already begun interior demolition at Arlington Park and have applied for permission to do exterior demolition, but that has yet to be approved, according to Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes.
“But even if it passes, that doesn’t mean they’ll go ahead if there’s an agreement on the tax assessment issue,” Hayes told NBC 5 Investigates.
Hayes said he anticipates the Bears will submit formal plans to the village before the end of the year for review by the village adviser. Additional infrastructure work, possible road construction or changes are things of interest to the people of Arlington Heights, Hayes added.
He did not have an exact timetable for when the town would receive the team’s formal plans.
The Cook County Assessor’s office declined to comment on the settlement. A Churchill Downs spokesman referred questions to his colleague, who did not respond to an email seeking comment. Messages left with the three area school districts involved were not returned.