Friday, July 5, 2024

The Chicago Bears Stadium Issue In Arlington Heights Took A Shady Turn


One thing about big-money projects is they will always attract less savory people like flies to honey. Politicians getting involved was inevitable for the Chicago Bears as they attempted to get their plans for a new stadium off the ground. The original plan was to build on their new property in Arlington Heights. However, problems arose over the valuation of the land, and local schools attempted to increase property taxes. Team president Kevin Warren refused to budge on that point, instead choosing that time to pivot towards trying to get a new lakefront stadium built in Chicago.

It appears some unsavory things have been happening in Arlington Heights. That includes a county tax review worker getting fired for calling out one of the decision-makers on the property tax issue for inappropriate conduct. Namely, it’s about her using the Bears’ situation to further her political profile rather than do her job. Robert McCoppin of the Chicago Tribune shared some wild details.

In January, the suit stated, (Samantha) Steele asked (Frank) Calabrese to write a memo to the full County Board summarizing submitted appraisals relating to the Bears’ appeal of the tax valuation of the former Arlington Park racecourse.

The team bought the property for $197 million, and Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi valued the site at $192 million.

Board of Review Commissioner George Cardenas said Steele prematurely released the board’s valuation of the property before it was finalized. She said Cardenas and Commissioner Larry Rogers, Jr., changed their minds after reaching an agreement. Ultimately, the Board of Review valued the property at $125 million, which the Bears are appealing to the state.

Since the appeal was still pending at the time, and the Board of Review has quasi-judicial powers, Calabrese believed soliciting advice from the County Board was inappropriate, and talked to the Board of Review’s general counsel about it.

It appears Calabrese thought Steele was trying to seize some kind of control of the situation.

She didn’t follow protocol and even her colleagues on the board called her out for said actions. Unfortunately for Calabrese, his unilateral decision ended up costing him his job.

After Calabrese was interviewed by the inspector general’s office in April, and wouldn’t disclose specifics to Steele, the suit states, he was terminated less than a month later.

“Commissioner Steele’s actions regarding the Chicago Bears’ tax appeal appeared to prioritize her own political profile and vanity over adherence to Board of Review protocols,” Calabrese said. “After I raised concerns, retaliation followed swiftly.”

Unsurprisingly, Calabrese is retaliating with a lawsuit for wrongful termination among other issues. All of this is happening while Arlington Heights fights hard to stay in the race for the stadium rights.

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The Chicago Bears may benefit from the infighting.

With politicians so focused on trying to outmaneuver each other, they aren’t forming a united front to get what they want from the Bears. That would explain why Arlington Heights has started making concessions on the property tax front, which brought the team back to the negotiating table. It appears the Chicago stadium is still their preference, but they finally made up some lost ground. If the Illinois state government doesn’t offer any sort of willingness to talk in the next few months, plans may shift.

Warren has said his goal is to start building the Chicago Bears’ stadium in 2025, which would mean having it done by 2028. This aggressive timetable requires clearing a lot of bureaucratic red tape. Warren seems confident it can be done. However, if Governor Pritzker and his people keep dragging their feet, it may compel the Bears to shift gears back to Arlington Heights. With the property tax issue out of the way, there should be smoother sailing to begin construction.


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Jul 5, 2024 9:34 am


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