Chicago Bears’ stadium plan likely to retain support after new mayor takes over in Arlington Heights (2024)

Robert McCoppin, Chicago Tribune

Updated ·4 min read

Two potential top contenders for the job of next mayor of Arlington Heights are expected to continue support for a new Chicago Bears stadium if plans ensure the the project will work out well for the village.

Trustee Thomas Schwingbeck Jr. and village Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jon Ridler both have expressed interest in the stadium project in the past, but are expected to continue the Village Board’s insistence that the project have a positive impact, financial and otherwise.

Mayor Tom Hayes announced recently he won’t run for reelection, and will step down when his term ends in May. The election will be in April.

The mayor thinks the Bears officials will decide by then whether to go forward with building a new stadium in Arlington Heights or Chicago.

“Having dealt with the Bears for more than three years now, I know they want to get it done sooner rather than later,” Hayes said. “(Bears President and CEO) Kevin Warren said publicly he wants to get a shovel in the ground sometime next year, so to do that you’d have to make a decision in the next 10 months.”

In 2022, the Bears proposed building a $2 billion enclosed stadium as part of a $5 billion mixed-use development on the site of the former Arlington Park. Team officials had signed an agreement to buy the former horse race track in 2021 and closed the deal for $197 million in 2023.

But Warren said a dispute over a few million dollars with local school districts over property taxes for the site were a “non-starter,” and switched focus to seeking a new domed stadium on the lakefront to replace the team’s current home in Soldier Field.

That proposal called for the team to pitch in $2 billion toward a $3.2 billion stadium, with taxpayers coming up with $900 million. With interest on loans to build the project, the stadium cost would near $4.8 billion, plus up to $1.5 billion for related infrastructure, including road improvements.

Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson supported the proposal, but Gov. J.B. Pritzker and state legislative leaders did not, saying they have other more pressing priorities.

The Bears in a statement Friday said their “focus” remains on the lakefront site.

“We look forward to continuing to meet with elected officials, community leaders, business leaders, residents and fans to collaborate on ways to make this massive economic development project, which will create 43,000 construction jobs and more than 4,000 permanent jobs for Illinois, a reality,” the statement said.

The team meanwhile continues to appeal Cook County’s $125 million valuation on the Arlington Heights property to the state Property Tax Appeal Board, claiming that it should pay a 10% tax rate rather than 25%, because it demolished the grandstand and other structures in 2023.

Hayes said he is stepping down to spend more time with family after 33 years in public office, first as a village trustee, and as mayor since he succeeded Arlene Mulder in 2013.

The position is supposed to be part time, with a salary of $8,500, but Hayes says it’s been almost like another full-time job on top of his role as asbestos litigation trial attorney for McKenna Storer.

As for the Bears’ tax dispute, Hayes said, “We have been talking with the school districts over the past several months, so I think we’re in a good place with them,” he said. “We communicated that to the Bears, they’ve responded, and we’re continuing our discussions with them.”

Schwingbeck announced his plans to run in May.

“As a current village trustee I know the issues facing our village and will continue to focus on being a good steward of our residents’ money while making sure we offer them superior village services,” Schwingbeck said in a written announcement, as first reported by the Daily Herald. “It is important to me to be fiscally responsible, especially in these tough economic times. My time as a village trustee — along with my past service on the zoning board of appeals — will continue to be a significant benefit to the board and our residents in view of the potential opportunities for the Arlington Park redevelopment project.”

Ridler could not immediately be reached for comment, but formed an exploratory committee in March for a possible run.

“I think it’s going to be another great asset for not only Arlington Heights but surrounding communities,” Ridler said when the team first announced its plans. “When you have something like the Bears in your area, it increases awareness of the community and the region, not only for tourism, but for businesses that want to locate here.”

Chicago Bears’ stadium plan likely to retain support after new mayor takes over in Arlington Heights (2024)
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