NBC5 Investigates

Settlement Reached in Property Tax Battle Over Bears' Potential Future Home in Arlington Heights

The deal means a lower tax bill for Arlington Park’s former owner, Churchill Downs, though it’s only for one year, meaning the Chicago Bears will have to revisit the issue

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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 surrounding school districts who stand to benefit from the increased tax bill.

The settlement agreement announced Thursday was reached between Churchill Downs - the former owner of Arlington Park, still on the hook for the tax bill – and the area school districts. But it’s a one-year agreement, meaning the site’s new owner – the Chicago Bears – will have to revisit the battle over the land’s value in the coming months.

As part of the triennial reassessment, the Cook County Assessor placed the land’s value at $197 million, close to the amount the Bears paid for it in February. Churchill Downs objected – appealing the issue to the Cook County Board of Review.

Churchill Downs argued the property was worth $37 million while the area school districts – which stand to benefit from property tax revenue – had pushed for $150 million in assessed value.

The settlement announced this week by Board of Review Commissioner Samantha Steele sets the current value of the land at $95 million.

“My staff has analyzed it and I feel like it's a fair value considering all of the market values for vacant land,” Steele told NBC 5 Investigates.

But the one-year deal means the land’s value will be re-assessed in the coming months, which sets the stage for the Bears to battle over the value once the team is responsible for paying the property taxes.

A Chicago Bears’ spokesman said they were not involved in this week’s settlement. The team previously said 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 unoccupied property we purchased, and the taxes associated with it, would be more than five times what the property generated when it had an income-producing racetrack operating on it. Arlington Park would not be redeveloped by anyone at such an excessive property tax rate,” the statement reads.

The Bears have already begun interior demolition at Arlington Park and have sought permission to do exterior demolition, but that has not yet been approved, according to Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes.

“But even if it's approved, that doesn't mean they'll go forward with it if a settlement is reached on the tax assessment issue,” Hayes told NBC 5 Investigates.

Hayes said he anticipates the Bears will present formal plans to the village before the end of the year, for the village’s consultant to review. Additional work for infrastructure, potential road construction or changes are all things are of interest to the people of Arlington Heights, Hayes added.

He did not have an exact timeline on when the team’s formal plans would be received by the village.

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.

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