Here’s what’s next for Arlington Heights area now that the Bears have bought Arlington Park – Chicago Tribune newstrendslive

News that the Chicago Bears have officially purchased Arlington International Racecourse ricocheted through the Northwest suburbs Wednesday, but many unknowns remain in a process that may, or may not, lead to a new NFL stadium in Arlington Heights.

A great deal of analysis and negotiations remain to be done, village leaders said. But the announcement that the team had bought the property for $197.2 million concludes more than a year of tentative negotiations between the village of Arlington Heights and the team as the Bears consider erecting a multibillion-dollar stadium and mixed-use commercial, residential and entertainment district on the 326-acre property.

Arlington Heights Village Manager Randy Recklaus said village staff are looking forward to working with the team and welcoming them to the area.

“We’re excited about this as a unique opportunity for us and appreciative that the Chicago Bears Football Club has chosen to make such a major investment in our community,” he said.

Just because the Bears have purchased the property doesn’t mean the team will build a new stadium there. Whatever they build, Recklaus said, Arlington Heights will need to vet the details of the project.

As part of that vetting, the village hired consultants to do traffic and economic impact analyses of the proposed development late in 2022.

“We have an obligation to ensure that any project proposed is in the best interests of our residents,” he said. “We still have to analyze what a potential proposal will mean for us.”

Now that the land sale is complete, Recklaus indicated “the next phase will be to analyze their proposal and figure out what this means from a traffic, safety, economic development perspective.”

“Obviously there’s going to be a lot of opportunity for public input over the next months and years as the project unfolds,” he said. Some village board meetings have featured public comments from residents asking to be more involved in the process, questioning whether or not they would have a say or decrying the proposal itself.

Leadership from both the football team and the village have emphasized that the development is still largely hypothetical, with only two signposts so far: a set of renderings depicting what an eventual stadium and mixed use district may look like and a predevelopment agreement that outlines the terms on which the village and the team intend to work together.

So far, trustees have had significant feedback for the team on the plans they have proposed, worrying that the development could duplicate or undercut Arlington Heights’ downtown or stating that the stadium and sporting aspect of the plans should get more emphasis.

As the Bears have conducted their due diligence on the former racecourse, local officials are also doing some of their own. Top brass from the village police and fire departments have visited other cities that host NFL stadiums and entertainment districts like Inglewood, California’s SoFi Stadium or Arlington, Texas’ AT&T stadium to observe how emergency personnel manage those facilities.

Bears leadership has made clear that they plan to seek some sort of public funding for their project. Recklaus also said the village will be “following what is going on in Springfield,” where State Sen. Ann Gillespie filed SB 1350 Feb. 6 despite expressing her own reservations about using public money on the project.

Gillespie’s legislation would allow certain “megaprojects” costing at least $500 million that the hosting municipality determines to be of “substantial public benefit” to be eligible for an additional 17 years’ worth of financial incentives.

That legislation could have a significant impact on area school districts, which rely heavily on property tax revenues to operate.

Township High School District 214, Township High School District 211 and Palatine-based Community Consolidated School District 15, all of which reap property tax revenue from some or all of the former racecourse property, are moving toward hiring a lobbyist to represent their interests in Springfield as the legislation makes its way through the legislative process.

Earlier this month, the District 214 and the District 15 Boards of Education moved to authorize their superintendents to hire lobbyists in the Capitol to try and influence the shape of the legislation.

However, district officials told Chicago Tribune/Pioneer Press that they’re not opposed to the team’s possible move out to Arlington Heights.

District 214 Co-interim Superintendent Ken Arndt told Pioneer Press the district is in support of a potential move to Arlington Heights and that officials were interested in discussing partnerships between the district and the team.

“This could be an exciting opportunity to collaborate with the team to provide various experiences for students through our Career Pathways program,” he said in a statement. “We look forward to learning more about their timeline for development of the properties.”

District 214 Board President Bill Dussling said Feb. 9 that the board has to “protect the district because that’s what we’re about, and that’s where our focus is.”

A spokesperson from District 211 said the district didn’t have a comment, but noted that hiring a lobbyist to represent its interests in Springfield alongside SD214 and SD15 was listed as an action item for its Feb. 16 board meeting.

Rebecca Latham, chief communications officer for District 15, wrote in an email, “District 15 is supportive of economic development in our community, however, we want to ensure the needs of District 15 students, staff, and residents are clearly articulated and that the plan is mutually beneficial for all stakeholders involved.

“This is exciting news for our community, so we want to continue to keep lines of communication open regarding the proposed plans and legislation.”

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