Bears, school districts fail to reach deal on Arlington Heights property value – NBC Chicago

The Chicago Bears and three suburban school districts were unable to reach a deal on the value of the team’s Arlington Heights property by their Saturday deadline, sending the dispute back to the Cook County Board of Review to make a decision that could have major implications for the team’s future in the northwest suburb.

Amid the ongoing dispute, the Board of Review on Wednesday informed both the Bears and the districts that it let the Cook County Assessor’s valuation of the 326-acre property stand at $192 million, which would roughly quintuple the team’s property tax bill.

The Bears bought that property that once housed the former Arlington International Racecourse for $197.2 million in February 2023, aiming to build a multi-billion dollar stadium development on the site with restaurants, retail, residential real estate and more.

Meanwhile, as part of the triennial reassessment, the Assessor’s Office increased the value of the property from $33 million to $197 million. Property taxes in Cook County lag by a year, leaving former owner Churchill Downs on the hook for the first bill at the higher value. Churchill Downs appealed to the Board of Review, then negotiated a one-year agreement with the school districts, which rely on property taxes for their funding and intervened in the appeal, for a $95 million value.

The responsibility for the bill then shifted to the Bears, who continued to negotiate with the districts.

At a January 30 Board of Review hearing on the issue, the Bears’ attorney said the team submitted two appraisals, one for $60 million and the other for $71 million. The Bears’ lawyer argued the Assessor’s Office inflated the value of the land relative to other, similarly sized sales, asking the Board of Review to reduce the value to $60 million.  

In that same hearing, the school districts’ attorney said the appraisal they submitted found the site to be worth $160 million, leaving a $100 million gap between the two sides.

Negotiations over the Chicago Bears’ property tax bill are ongoing, with the fate of an Arlington Heights stadium development in the balance as the team and the surrounding school districts remain $100 million apart in their valuations of the site, NBC Chicago’s Alex Maragos reports.

In allowing the Assessor’s $192 million value to stand earlier in the week, the Board of Review gave the two sides until Saturday to reach an agreement.

But in a letter obtained by NBC 5 Investigates, the team’s attorney on Friday kicked the decision back to the Board of Review, asked the three commissioners to consider several factors: the previous settlement value of $95 million, the Bears’ demolition of the 86 buildings on the property, similar commercial real estate sales and more.

The Board of Review is expected to reach a decision on the value next week. The value is then slated to be sent to the Assessor’s Office for certification around the end of the month.

Once the value is certified, if a settlement hasn’t been reached, the Bears could appeal to the Property Tax Appeal Board or file a complaint in the Circuit Court of Cook County, though both would likely be lengthy processes.

“If the Bears want Arlington Heights to happen, I think they’re going to have to budge way further than they want to,” NBC Sports Chicago’s Bears Insider Josh Schrock said.

The Bears have long said — even as they purchased the site — that they needed property tax “certainty” before they can build. And the battle over the property taxes has put the possibility of staying within the city of Chicago back on the table, as the team has reopened the conversation with Mayor Brandon Johnson, who took office after the Bears purchased the Arlington Heights property.

“I think the stagnation in the talks between the school districts and the Bears can only tell you that the Bears are at least really considering trying to find a way to stay in the city,” Schrock said. “I think there’s more momentum that way now than there was a year ago.”

“This is all part of the long, slow dance that many of us expected between the Bears and their next home,” said longtime Bears commentator David Haugh.

“It’s essentially: Who is going to blink first? And I believe the Bears are wanting people to think they’re prepared to wait, to wait it out,” Haugh said.

“Why did the Bears get in this position to begin with? They wanted to own their own stadium. That’s how you get ahead as an NFL owner. The McCaskeys want to be able to keep the money they make at their own stadium,” he added. “This is a game of leverage.”

“Once they get it all built, they’re going to make that money back in concerts and tourism and should they ever want to sell the team, the valuation is going to go through the roof because you have all of that land,” Schrock said. “I think in the end it’s just going to be: how much do the Bears value that? And are they willing to eat a little bit upfront for the pay down the road?”

Representatives for the school districts and a spokesman for the Bears did not respond Saturday to requests for comment on the failure to reach a deal.

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