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Chicago Bears and schools are $100M apart on tax value of former Arlington Park, complicating stadium proposal

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The Chicago Bears and local schools are $100 million apart on the property tax valuations of the former Arlington International Racecourse, where the team wants to build an enclosed stadium.

The huge gap means that the two sides are likely to have difficulty reaching a compromise on the value and further complicates the team’s plan to move to Arlington Heights.

The ongoing issue came up Tuesday during a meeting of the Cook County Board of (Tax) Review.

The Bears presented two appraisals of the 326-acre property, for $60 million and $71 million, board of review officials said. The key to the Bears’ appraisal was categorizing the property as vacant residential land, which gets taxed at 10% of market value.

The local school districts have had the land valued at $160 million.

The Palatine Community Consolidated School District 15 appraisal classified the land for commercial use, which puts it into a 25% tax bracket.

In a tri-yearly assessment in 2023, Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi raised the appraised value from $33 million to almost equal to the $197 million the Bears paid for the land last year.

District 15, Arlington Heights-based Township High School District 214, and Palatine-based Township High School District 211, reached an agreement last year with the former owner, Churchill Downs Inc., to value the site at $8 million.

But Churchill Downs, which closed the racetrack to concentrate more on casinos, was eager to be rid of the property, and had to negotiate just one year’s valuation. The Bears are looking at a process that could set a baseline for the tax value for the property for years to come.

To lower the value of the site, the Bears demolished the racetrack last year to turn it into vacant land. But Kaegi then significantly increased the value of the land, which typically stays fairly stable.

“There’s no documentation or justification for such a substantial increase,” Cook County Board of (Tax) Review Chairwoman Samantha Steele said. “My concern is not that it’s the Bears or Arlington Park, it’s that each taxpayer needs to be treated fairly and make a prediction of what the tax bill will look like.

“They both have compelling arguments,” Steele said. “It’s in both parties best interests to come together. It’s like two children arguing, you want to figure it out before you go to Mom and she takes (the decision) away.”

Board Commissioner Larry Rogers, Jr. also was critical of the assessor’s valuation, forming a potential vote in the Bears’ favor.

If the two sides can’t agree, the three-member board of review will make its own determination by the end of February.

rmccoppin@chicagotribune.com

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