The Arlington Heights Village Board Monday unanimously rejected a proposed referendum to prohibit public subsidies for a proposed Chicago Bears stadium development or any other private enterprise.
The board voted 9-0 to reject a petition for an “Anti-Corporate Welfare Ordinance,” which had been signed by some 565 registered voters and residents.
Mayor Thomas Hayes urged rejection of the measure, saying it would cause “severe negative economic impact.” He also alleged that some petitioners had said they were misled about the purpose of the proposal.
The Bears, who currently play in Chicago’s Soldier Field, have a preliminary agreement to buy the 326-acre Arlington International Racecourse from Churchill Downs Inc. for $197 million. The team has proposed a $5 billion redevelopment of the property to include a new enclosed football stadium and adjoining entertainment, retail and residential buildings.
The team has said it would pay for the stadium, but would need public help to pay for infrastructure, such as roads and utilities, for the mixed-use development.
The petition to the board would have prevented the village from offering any financial incentive not just to the Bears, but to any business or corporation.
The petition had been circulated by Americans for Prosperity-Illinois, based in neighboring Rolling Meadows. It is part of a national conservative libertarian group backed by the conservative billionaire Koch family.
The group’s deputy director, Brian Costin, told the board that he would continue to fight for the measure.
“Our ordinance is about equality before the law,” he said. “You shouldn’t be forced … to pay for the profits of others. … The citizens of Arlington Heights deserve to have the final say on the issue of corporate welfare.”
Village Manager Randall Recklaus warned that such a measure would prevent many programs the village has used successfully, from subsidizing public parking to al fresco dining.
One likely possibility for the Bears would be a tax increment financing, or TIF district. Under a TIF, any increases in property tax revenues in a designated area, such as the stadium development, would be used to pay for infrastructure improvements there. Property tax revenues going to local taxing bodies such as schools would be frozen at current levels for 23 years.
Board trustees argued that they have used such incentives carefully and successfully for several shopping centers.
“I’m hoping this is the end of (the petition),” Trustee John Scaletta told Costin, adding, “You’re wasting our time.”
The village allows a petitioner to gather signatures from 12% of registered voters, or nearly 7,000 signatures, to override the board and put the measure on the ballot.
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