At least one school district that serves the area where the Arlington International Racecourse is located in Arlington Heights has warned village leadership that creating a tax-incentive district to facilitate the redevelopment plans the Chicago Bears team is proposing for the site — including building a new NFL stadium — “would be a real concern,” public records show.
The football team inked a $197 million purchase agreement for the former Arlington Park International Racecourse site last year. In September, the Bears unveiled plans for a mixed-use commercial and residential development alongside the new, domed stadium it plans to build on the former racecourse, though leadership emphasized the still-tentative nature of the plans.
Given the $5 billion estimated cost of the Bears’ project, Palatine School District 15 Superintendent Laurie Heinz said the team or the village should chip in to help the school district respond to the increased student population and its needs anticipated as a result of the redevelopment.
“We do not see any reason why the Chicago Bears and/or the Village of Arlington Heights cannot assist the District with a new campus or additions to existing campuses occasioned by the new Chicago Bears development,” she said.
Arlington Park International Racecourse sits in the far southeast corner of Palatine School District 15. SD15 serves students from Palatine, Rolling Meadows, Hoffman Estates, Inverness, South Barrington and Schaumburg as well as unincorporated Arlington Heights.
According to its website, the district is the second-largest elementary district in Illinois. State data indicates that the 19-school district currently has some 11,500 students enrolled in pre-K to eighth grade.
In a May 2 letter to Arlington Heights Mayor Thomas Hayes obtained by Pioneer Press, Heinz introduced herself and requested a meeting with Hayes and the village’s economic development team.
“We have educated and transported the students of Racecourse employees at Arlington Park … for decades,” Heinz wrote.
Heinz asked village officials in her May letter whether the village was considering creating a tax increment financing district as part of the Bears’ proposed development. In a separate interview with Pioneer Press, she discussed wanting to know whether the school district would receive student impact fees as part of the development — to account for the increased student population such development would bring to the district.
She said preliminary drawings released to the public indicate that the final development will bring a significant number of new residents.
“If the new residential areas are within the TIF area and those units are expected to generate new students for the District, the District will need assistance with adding classroom space to existing schools or potentially building a new school within the redevelopment area,” Heinz said.
Documents reviewed by Pioneer Press indicate that Heinz and District 15′s Diana McCluskey met virtually with Bears team leadership and Village Manager Randy Recklaus July 26.
“The planned stadium and additional development are exciting to consider and potentially transformational to the area and the Village,” Heinz wrote in an Aug. 18 letter to Recklaus following the virtual meeting. “The plans also hold such potential to have a significant impact on District 15.”
Heinz urged the village to not establish a TIF district that includes Arlington Park, saying it “would be a significant concern for District 15.”
“Given the potential impact on District 15, locking billions of dollars of [equalized assessed value] in a TIF district for 23 years would be a real concern for our District,” she wrote.
Heinz requested estimates for how many units of housing would be in the mixed-used development the Bears have proposed, as well as a projection for the equalized assessed value of the area once developed. Property taxes are determined using EAV.
SD15 has a referendum on the ballot in the Nov. 8 election that asks voters for $93 million to help pay for renovations and updates to its campuses. The capital upgrades are part of the district’s overall “Moving 15 Forward” plan.
In an email to Pioneer Press , Heinz said the plan would “allow the District to repair and restore its existing facilities, bring full-day kindergarten to all elementary schools, as well as to build additions to schools to address changing enrollment/school capacity.”
In her August letter to Recklaus, Heinz said knowing the housing plans and the projected equalized value assessments were “essential information.”
Heinz told Pioneer Press that District 15 is “pro-development.” But, she added, she didn’t want to see taxpayers finance the educational costs of the development. She said the district looked at tax information from the five parcels that make up the racecourse site and found that District 15 received about $1,067,538 in revenue in tax year 2020 – about 36% of the total taxes from the site.
Asked how much the district might seek in impact fees should the Bears move ahead with developing the racetrack site, Heinz did not provide specifics.
“We anticipate partnering with the Village and the Bears organization to make sure D15 is not negatively impacted so we are able to serve students and continue to provide the highest quality education that the District 15 community expects and we are committed to delivering,” she said in an email to Pioneer Press.
Arlington Heights-based Township High School District 214 spokeswoman Stephanie Kim said the district was excited by the prospect of the Bears coming to Arlington Heights. District 15 is one of several SD214 feeder districts.
District 214 has collaborated with the team in the past, and Kim said in a message to Pioneer Press the move could set up “a great opportunity to significantly expand a partnership through our career pathways program to provide a talent pipeline for the jobs that will be created by the Bears.”
Like District 15, SD214 say the district isn’t yet clear on the financial impact the stadium and development could have on its schools. The high school district includes six schools with about 11,900 students, according to state data.
“Without knowing the specific details of that development, it is difficult to say how and to what extent it will have [in impact] on District 214,” Kim said.
She said the district couldn’t say specifically how much revenue it had taken in from the site in the most recent tax year but said SD214 officials had spoken with both village and Bears officials since the project was announced and are so far satisfied with those interactions.
“Arlington Heights has always been a fantastic partner and we have had productive conversations with them as well as the Bears,” Kim said.
The Bears have held a training camp practice at a D214 high school in the past, she said, and the district is hopeful about the prospect of future collaborations with the team.
“This could be a great opportunity to significantly expand a partnership through our career pathways program to provide a talent pipeline for the jobs that will be created by the Bears, surrounding businesses and other opportunities we can’t yet imagine,” Kim said.
Harper College, the community college that serves students from Arlington Heights, Schaumburg, Palatine and other northwestern suburbs, will also see a change if the village sets up a TIF for the Bears at Arlington Park, school officials said.
Rob Galick, Harper College executive vice president of finance and administrative services, confirmed the college does receive property tax revenue from the racecourse site.
However, he said, Harper College serves four counties and 23 different municipalities, which will make the financial impact of a public financing tool much lighter on the college than it would be on a local school district, which relies on a much smaller set of parcels.
It’s still early to think about concerns or opportunities that might arise from the Bears’ arrival at the racecourse, Gallick said. But the projected economic impact of the project on the area has a direct bearing on Harper College’s mission, he said.
“Our role in the community is to educate and provide a workforce for our community,” he said. “To the extent that such a development creates jobs, it’s our duty to fill the workforce pipeline with qualified individuals.”
The Bears have said their planned redevelopment will have a $9 billion economic impact and create 48,000 jobs.
Township High School District 211, which contains part of Arlington Park, also receives tax revenue from the site.
Spokeswoman Erin Holmes said that revenue comes from two parcels situated within the proposed stadium district.
“Those two parcels generated approximately $195,000 in tax revenue in tax year 2020, the most recent data available,” Holmes said in an email to Pioneer Press.
SD211 officials did not comment on the planned development beyond its current financial association with the site, but is listed as a stakeholder in documents associated with the project.
Village Manager Randy Recklaus confirmed in an email to Pioneer Press that village staff met informally with the racecourse site’s taxing bodies. He emphasized the still-preliminary nature of the discussions and said there is no formal agreement between the village and the football team regarding public financing.
“The Village has not received any requests for financial assistance from the Chicago Bears at this time, nor has the Village agreed to provide any,” he said. “Any discussion of specific tools and how they may be used is very premature.”