Eye On Illinois: Springfield has already done plenty for Lake Forest’s football team


Were I governor, I’d publicly and politely tell Virginia McCaskey to call an audible.

That’s the kind of nice thing you do for the 99-year-old matriarch of the state’s 103-year-old professional football franchise.

However, I’d privately tell Chicago Bears President and CEO Ted Phillips to pound sand in a rathole. And then some.

In June 2021, Phillips first announced the Lake Forest-based Bears (they lease Soldier Field from the Chicago Park District) intended to buy the shuttered Arlington International Racecourse property. That news alone raised one red flag, and more keep popping up as the team slowly releases plans for a $5 billion stadium and “mixed use transit oriented” complex in the northwestern suburbs.

Scott T. Holland

Scott T. Holland

Taxpayers statewide needn’t be worried about the Bears working with Arlington Heights village officials. It’s hard to be too upset with elected officials facing a unique, decaying 326-acre parcel. But the implied expansion of Metra’s Union Pacific Northwest line and eventual work on Illinois 53 instantly gives the Bears’ project broader implications. The difference is that while the village has to solve the racetrack problem, the NFL franchise worth an estimated $5.8 billion isn’t being forced to do anything.

Greg Hinz, of Crain’s Chicago Business, recently reported the Bears inquired about using something called PILOT – payment in lieu of taxes – a subsidy originating with the federal government and which the team says would provide it help without causing the harms often associated with more conventional tax increment financing districts.

Other writers can and will examine the differences between PILOT and TIF, but the top-line takeaway is the same: an already wealthy private company wants to leverage public resources rather than independently funding its own growth project.

Taxpayers earlier this century gave nearly $400 million to the misguided Soldier Field renovation with no tangible proof of return on that investment. We haven’t yet seen the inevitable economic impact studies that will – as is the case in every other city that faces this problem – skew data by ignoring the fact that giant arenas have little ability to sustainably and substantially draw new revenue from visitors and generally just reallocate luxury spending from existing residents.

In other words, a short-term boon for construction companies but a long-term loser for the many businesses reliant on game day traffic, not to mention heavy investment in transportation infrastructure presented as necessary without evidence of a mandate to erect a shrine to the Halas-McCaskey legacy.

The Bears either have the money for this project on their own or it’s not a good deal. State lawmakers have already done plenty for the team over the years and have many infrastructure obligations unrelated to football. With state finances finally improving, vanity ventures need not apply.

Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media. Follow him on Twitter @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.

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December 17, 2022 at 05:18AM

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