FEB 08, 2023
Soldier Field’s senator unhappy with how Bears making pitch for state help as legislation that could help the team move to the suburbs is introduced
Sen. Robert Peters (D-Chicago) speaks at a news conference in Springfield Tuesday. [Ben Szalinski/The Daily Line]
A day after Sen. Ann Gillespie (D-Arlington Heights) introduced legislation that could make it easier for the Bears to develop Arlington Park, Sen. Robert Peters (D-Chicago) expressed displeasure over how the Bears are pitching lawmakers.
Gillespie filed SB1391 Monday which established a payment in lieu of taxes system that developers of mega projects could use to ease costs associated with developing a large section of land. The bill would allow a developer to have property taxes frozen through at least 2043 on the land it is developing with the developer agreeing to pay the local taxing body an additional agreed-upon amount each year rather than paying increasing property taxes on the development each year as the property increases in value.
“If we’re going to do it, we need to do it in a way that protects residential taxpayers and small-business taxpayers from paying a disproportionate share of the load,” Gillespie told the Tribune Monday.
The senator who represents Soldier Field, Peters, is not interested in helping the Bears leave the city for the suburbs, especially if the team needs financial help to leave his district for Gillespie’s.
“I am a die-hard Bears fan… It’s not necessarily about the Bears themselves,” Peters told The Daily Line. “I advocate for working class communities. I have to hear over and over again what public safety is and isn’t, and then I see these kinds of conversations and I go I don’t know how this makes my community safer, I don’t know how this makes my community better and I see this as there’s a level of hypocrisy.”
Part of that hypocrisy Peters believes is the McCaskey’s political history, which leans right.
“The history of the McCaskeys has been one of being anti-government, anti-working class and now they are talking about a government handout left and right,” Peters said.
Bears owner Virginia McCaskey in recent years has made a steady stream of contributions of up to $5,000 to mostly Republican politicians or conservative organizations, including her most recent contribution to Republican Supreme Court candidate Mark Curran, according to State Board of Elections data. Sports Illustrated reported McCaskey has also contributed to U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).
“I’m not against the Bears doing what the Bears need to do,” Peters said. “I’m not even against that they will go and try to make the arguments that they do. But they have to be held accountable for the arguments they make.”
A spokesperson for the Bears said the team is reviewing the proposal.
Gov. JB Pritzker signed a law Friday that prevents the Bears from accessing his newly created closing fund, setting a roadblock for the team’s quest for public funds. Team Chairman George McCaskey acknowledged last year “we will need help” to fund the 326-acre development, though he said the team will not be asking for public funds to build what is anticipated to be a multi-billion-dollar stadium. Bears President Ted Phillips, who is retiring this month, said the team’s public funding request will focus on infrastructure.
“There’s been about 20 stadiums built in the last 25 years or so,” Phillips said in September. “The vast majority of those have had public dollars go to stadium construction. We’re not asking for that. Every stadium development has had infrastructure costs that are publicly funded. Every single one. Why does that happen? It’s because those communities see the short and long-term benefits.”
Peters said one reason he is skeptical of the Bears’ request is because prior sports stadium developments around the country have not lived up to their promised economic potential and came with hefty public price tags. State lawmakers have previously ponied up state funds to keep the White Sox in Illinois and most recently to renovate Soldier Field in 2003. Taxpayers remain on the hook for the Soldier Field renovations for about 10 more years.
“If as a state we have these conversations about a football team getting the money they need to move, we need to have the conversations about working class families getting the money they need to stay in their home,” Peters said at an unrelated news conference Tuesday.
At a news conference in Peoria Tuesday, Pritzker said he has not reviewed Gillespie’s proposal in-depth outside of media reports on the bill, but agreed with her assessment in the Tribune that there is a “note of skepticism” around the proposed payment in lieu of taxes.
“It is a private business and I honestly do not think the public has an obligation just to fund in this major way a private business… I certainly don’t want to burden taxpayers with major support for a private business,” Pritzker said.
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