PEORIA — Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Tuesday kept a legislative proposal that could help the Chicago Bears finance a new stadium development in Arlington Heights at arm’s length, saying the plan has many hurdles to clear before potentially landing on his desk.
Pritzker spoke a day after state Sen. Ann Gillespie introduced legislation that would create a financing device to allow property tax assessments to be frozen for up to 40 years on major developments like the one proposed by the Bears.
“There are a lot of hoops to run through in the General Assembly for this to ever get to me and I have to say … there was a note of skepticism even in the words of the person who introduced the bill,” Pritzker said at an unrelated event in Peoria. “But I think she wanted to make sure that the General Assembly had an opportunity to hear about it and consider it in committee.
“So, you know, I look forward to hearing more about it and seeing how it might evolve,” Pritzker said.
The tax proposal in Gillespie’s bill was first floated several weeks earlier and has been met with skepticism. Gillespie, a Democrat from Arlington Heights, said in an interview on Monday she had her own doubts about the plan, adding that her motivation was in part to spark a debate on possible reforms to a separate form of assistance for developers known as tax increment financing.
TIFS are a frequently used economic development tool that Gillespie said often result in homeowners and small businesses paying higher real estate taxes.
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Under her bill, whose provisions could be used for by any large-scale developer, the Bears would be required to invest at least $500 million in converting the 326-acre former racetrack to a stadium and surrounding mixed-use development.
The Bears would be required to negotiate an annual payment to local taxing bodies on top of property tax payments based on the frozen assessment.
Supporters of the legislation say it would create an incentive for larger developments that would not occur without the assistance. But it’s likely to face pushback from Chicago lawmakers who don’t want to make it any easier for the NFL’s charter franchise to leave its namesake city. The Bears have played in Soldier Field since 1971.
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The Bears agreed to buy the former racetrack for $197 million in September 2021, but the team has yet to close on the deal. Team Chair George McCaskey has said that while the racetrack property remains the team’s “singular focus,” officials are still trying to determine whether they can close the deal in the first quarter of this year.
The Bears have proposed building a new enclosed stadium as part of a $5 billion development that would include apartments, condominiums, bars, restaurants and parks. But team executives say they won’t go forward with the development without a government subsidy of the infrastructure costs.
The governor has said previously that he doesn’t support state assistance for a new Bears stadium in the suburbs. One of Pritzker’s recent economic development priorities was the creation of a special fund to help close deals with businesses that are considering locating in Illinois. But legislation creating the fund, which he signed into law Friday, expressly prohibits its use for providing incentives to pro sports teams that relocate within the state.
While Gillespie’s proposal doesn’t call for direct state funding for megaprojects, Pritzker reiterated Tuesday that he doesn’t believe that taxpayers should be on the hook for helping the team move to Arlington Heights.
“I honestly do not think that the public has an obligation to fund in this major way a private business,” Pritzker said, “Obviously, there are things that we do for private businesses all the time that are important to them, including, you know, paving roads, that are very important for building industry in the state.
“But, you know, I’m of the opinion that it’s not our obligation as the state to step in and provide major funding and I certainly don’t want to burden taxpayers with, you know, major support for a private business. So, having said that, we’ll see how this project moves along in the General Assembly.”